Millions of people in India, Bangladesh and Bhutan have been forced to flee from “super cyclone” Amphan that swept inland from the Indian Ocean on Wednesday.
Winds of over 100 miles an hour tore through villages and towns destroying everything in their path. While flimsy mud-built dwellings were destroyed in an instant, even concrete buildings had roofs torn away and whole trees and electricity pylons were uprooted.
Many of the early casualties of the category 5 cyclone were hit by flying debris.
But now, as sea water rushes into the Bay of Bengal and heavy rains lash down, the risk of starvation and disease is increasing.
Much basic infrastructure, including the electricity grid and roads, are all but destroyed.
The ecologically fragile region straddling the Indian-Bangladesh border is best known for thick mangrove forests that are a critical tiger habitat. That area took a direct hit meaning that the shrimp fishing industry that provides a livelihood for hundreds of thousands of people lies in ruins.
Babul Mondal lives on the edge of the Indian side of the Sundarbans mangrove area, which is home to approximately four million people.
He said that houses there “look like they have been run over by a bulldozer.
“Everything is destroyed.”
While the mass evacuation of some 3 million people from both India and Bangladesh will undoubtedly have saved lives, there is now a danger that the coronavirus will spread among the displaced.
Social distancing in mass shelters and camps is virtually impossible, and government efforts to distribute face masks and hand sanitiser can offer only the most minimal protection.
Both India and Bangladesh are experiencing a huge increase in the number of infected people, but with a very minimal testing regime, no one can be sure just how fast its growth is.
The first cases of coronavirus were detected last week at the world’s biggest refugee settlement, the Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh
More than 850,000 Rohingya refugees fleeing from persecution in Myanmar are sealed in there, and on hundreds of boats along the coast.
A mass outbreak among the Rohingya people would be a disaster of unimaginable proportions.
Amphan is only the second super cyclone to have hit the north-eastern Indian Ocean since the powerful 1999 Odisha storm, but climate scientists say the region must brace for many more.
Tropical cyclones get their energy from warmer temperatures and the preceding weeks have provided the perfect conditions for this powerful and fast-forming storm system.
Monitors observed sustained, abnormally high sea surface temperatures of 32 to 34 degrees in the Bay of Bengal throughout May. In less than a day, Cyclone Amphan formed and morphed into a monster.
Prof Mark Howden, vice-chair of the International Panel on Climate Change, said, “What is clear is that climate change, which is driving high sea surface temperatures, is resulting in a tendency towards higher cyclone strength. We’re seeing more category 3, 4 and 5 cyclones, in both absolute numbers and in the proportion of cyclones. Any category 4 or 5 cyclone is a real potentially life-threatening event.”