India began evacuating thousands of villagers and halted port operations ahead of a cyclone expected to hit its east coast this week, piling pressure on emergency services grappling with the coronavirus pandemic.
The cyclone, expected to make landfall on Wednesday, comes as India eases the world’s longest lockdown, imposed in April against the virus, which has infected more than 96,169 people and killed 3,029.
The states of Odisha and West Bengal sent disaster management teams to move families from homes of mud and thatch to places of shelter from the severe cyclonic storm, Amphan, which is expected to gain strength in the next 12 hours.
“We have to evacuate people from low-lying areas, and protect them from the coronavirus too,” said a senior official of India’s home ministry who sought anonymity. “It’s not an easy task.”
The cyclone season usually runs from April to December, with severe storms forcing the evacuations of tens of thousands and causing widespread death and damage to crops and property, both in India and neighbouring Bangladesh.
Authorities at the port of Paradip in Odisha ordered ships to move out to sea to avoid damage as the cyclone formed over the Bay of Bengal.
The prime minister, Narendra Modi, is set to hold a meeting in New Delhi to plan how to mitigate damage and injuries.
“The extremely severe cyclonic storm ‘Amphan’…is likely to gain more strength and intensify further into a super cyclonic storm in the next 12 hours,” weather officials said in a statement, forecasting heavy rain in eastern and southern areas.