Millions flee as powerful cyclone batters coast of India, Bangladesh

A man covers himself with a plastic sheet and walks in the rain ahead of Cyclone Amphan landfall, at Bhadrak district, in the eastern Indian state of Odisha, on Wednesday. — Courtesy photo

KOLKATA/DHAKA — A powerful cyclone slammed ashore on Wednesday along the coastline of India and Bangladesh, bringing torrential rains and ferocious winds.

Millions of people were evacuated from the eastern India and neighboring Bangladesh in anticipation of the storm. However, the operation was complicated by coronavirus and social-distancing measures.

India's weather department said in an afternoon update that Cyclone Amphan was making landfall in a process that would take several hours.

Amphan had begun moving inland after brewing for days in the Bay of Bengal to become one of the strongest storms to hit the region in about a decade.

Officials in India's Odisha and West Bengal states said powerful winds had torn off roofs, uprooted trees and bent electricity poles, hitting power supplies in some areas.

Amphan is expected to move further into Bangladesh on Thursday, and later Bhutan.

The densely populated region has some of the most vulnerable communities in South Asia: poor fishing communities in the Sunderbans and over a million Rohingya refugees living in crowded camps in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.

The storm was the first super cyclone in the Bay of Bengal since one in 1999 that killed thousands of people but its winds have since weakened slightly, according to BBC Weather.

Indian officials said the current wind speed in the Sundarbans was 160-170 km/h, with gusts of up to 190km/h - equal to a Category Three hurricane.