Mass evacuations as major cyclone heads for India, Bangladesh

This photo release from the District Administration of Bhola shows residents being evacuated in Dhalchar village as the Cyclone Amphan barrels towards Bangladesh’s coast. (AFP)
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Updated 20 May 2020

Mass evacuations as major cyclone heads for India, Bangladesh

  • Cyclone Amphan feared to be more destructive than Sidr in 2007

KOLKATA, INDIA: Millions of people were being moved to safety Tuesday as one of the fiercest cyclones in decades barrelled towards India and Bangladesh, with evacuation plans complicated by coronavirus precautions.

Both countries are under various stages of lockdown because of the disease, with infections still surging.
Authorities in Bangladesh planned to evacuate 2.2 million people, fearing cyclone Amphan will be more destructive than Sidr in 2007, when 3,500 people died, mostly from rising seas swamping low-lying areas.
The junior disaster management minister, Enamur Rahman, said the number of shelters had been doubled to ensure social distancing, and everyone would be made to wear facemasks.
“We are also keeping separate isolation rooms in the shelters for any infected patients,” he told AFP.
But the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) aid group said coastal dwellers faced “an impossible choice” of braving the cyclone by staying put, or risking being infected with coronavirus in a shelter.
CRS’s Snigdha Chakraborty warned of ‘grim days ahead’ as limited access to safe water and health facilities take their toll on locals whose livelihoods have already been devastated by the pandemic.
On Tuesday Amphon was still several hundred kilometera (miles) out to sea in the Bay of Bengal, packing winds of up to 235 kmph and gusts of 255 kmph.
It was expected to make landfall on Wednesday afternoon or early evening.
In India, Weather Office Director General Mrutyunjay Mohapatra told local media that Amphon would be the most powerful weather system since a super-cyclone in 1999 killed 10,000 people in the eastern state of Odisha.

HIGHLIGHT

CRS’ Snigdha Chakraborty warned of ‘grim days ahead’ as limited access to safe water and health facilities take their toll on locals whose livelihoods have already been devastated by the pandemic.

West Bengal state official Manturam Pakhira said more than 200,000 people were being evacuated from coastal districts and the Sundarbans, a vast mangrove forest area.
“Authorities are also supplying masks and sanitizers and making arrangements so that they can maintain safe distance from each other,” he said.
In Odisha, relief commissioner Pradeep Kumar Jena told AFP that 20,000 people had been evacuated, with 600 disaster response teams standing by.
“We will evacuate more people depending on the situation. No one will be allowed to stay in huts with thatched roofs in coastal areas,” Jena said.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that he was praying for everyone’s safety after chairing a virtual meeting on preparations Monday.
Although not predicted to be on the direct path of the storm, south-eastern Bangladesh is home to almost a million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, most living in vast camps of shacks.
The first coronavirus cases were reported there last week, and by Tuesday there were six confirmed cases.
The UN said emergency items such as food, tarpaulins and water purification tablets had been stockpiled.
Bangladesh’s coast, home to 30 million people, and India’s east are regularly battered by cyclones that have claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in recent decades.
A typhoon, tornadoes and flooding killed 139,000 in Bangladesh in 1991, while in 2008 Cyclone Nargis left 138,000 people dead or missing in Myanmar.
While the storms’ frequency and intensity have increased -- blamed partly on climate change -- deaths have fallen thanks to faster evacuations, better forecasting and more shelters.


Philippine trash trawlers earn little from virus-boosted surge in plastics

Updated 9 min 23 sec ago

Philippine trash trawlers earn little from virus-boosted surge in plastics

MANILA: Virgilio Estuesta has picked through trash in the Philippines’ biggest city for four decades, and is noticing an unusually large amount of plastics during his daily trawl of about 15 km (9.3 miles).
Tough curbs re-imposed to combat a surge in daily coronavirus infections are squeezing income for the 60-year-old, as many of the junkyards and businesses in Manila that buy his recyclables have been closed since March.
Plastic items, such as bottles and containers, dominate the contents of the rickety wooden cart Estuesta pushes through the deserted streets, far more than metals and cardboard, yet the money they bring in is not enough to get by.
“It’s been really hard for us, it’s been difficult looking for recyclables that sell high,” he said.
“Recently we’ve been seeing a lot more plastics, but the problem is they don’t really sell high.”
Environmentalists say the Philippines is battling one of the world’s biggest problems stemming from single-use plastics, and ranks among the biggest contributors to plastic pollution of the oceans. It has no reliable data for its plastics consumption.
Greenpeace campaigner Marian Ledesma said consumers and businesses are now using yet more single-use plastics, in a bid to ward off virus infections.
“The pandemic has really increased plastic pollution,” she added. “Just because there’s a lot more people using disposables now, due to misconceptions and fears around transmitting the virus.”
Since March 16, Manila has experienced lockdowns of varying levels of severity, in some of the world’s longest and tightest measures to curb the spread of the virus.
They are taking a toll on Estuesta, who hopes to start earning soon.
“When you go out, the police will reprimand you,” he said. “I was stuck at home and had to rely on government aid, which was not enough. I had to resort to borrowing money from people.”