Sun sets behind a patterned cloud formed over the city in Kolkata, West Bengal state, India, Monday, May 18, 2020. Image Credit: AP

A cyclonic storm equivalent of a category 5 hurricane is gathering strength and is set to hit coasts of India and Bangladesh late on Wednesday, with authorities making preparations to evacuate more than five million people to safer places.

Cyclone Amphan, moving at a speed of 220 to 230 kilometers (137-143 miles) per hour, is forecast to be the worst storm over the Bay of Bengal since the 1999 super cyclone that hit the eastern Indian state of Odisha, said Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, director general of the India Meteorological Department. The super cyclone had killed about 10,000 people in the state.

The wind speed, which is expected to surge to about 265 kilometers per hour, will be intense enough to damage crops, plantations, trees, mud houses and communication and electric poles, as well as disrupt road traffic and transportation of essential goods. Large boats and ships may get torn from their moorings, according to a statement by India's weather office. The storm also threatens lives of people and animals.

The cyclone is set to cause further miseries to India and Bangladesh, which are witnessing a slump in economic activities, like many other countries, due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Indian economy is headed for its first full-year contraction in more than four decades, while Fitch Solutions in April lowered Bangladesh's GDP growth forecast.

Shelters in place

Bangladesh has prepared 12,078 cyclone shelters in coastal districts for 5.19 million people, State Minister for Disaster Management and Relief Enamur Rahman said at a media briefing in Dhaka.

In India, about 25 teams from the National Disaster Response Force have been deployed on the ground, while 12 others are ready in reserve, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who held an emergency meeting on Monday to review the preparations, said on Twitter.

Modi storm
Prime Minister Narendra Modi holds meeting with Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) officials in New Delhi on Monday, to review the situation arising out of Cyclone Amphan in different parts of the country. Image Credit: ANI

Odisha started evacuating people on Monday evening and the operation will continue until Tuesday, said Pradeep Kumar Jena, special relief commissioner of the state. Odisha has about 560 permanent cyclone shelters and identified more than 7,000 public buildings as temporary places to keep people, he said.

Heavy rainfall is expected at some places in West Bengal during the landfall, Mohapatra said, adding that the storm could result in large-scale damage. High tidal waves are likely to inundate low-lying areas in parts of West Bengal, he said. Some places in Odisha may receive heavy showers on Tuesday and Wednesday as the storm passes closer to the coast.