Cyclone Amphan is expected to make landfall on Wednesday afternoon, and forecasters warned of extensive damage from high winds, heavy rainfall, tidal waves and some flooding in crowded cities like Kolkata. It is expected to ease slightly before crossing the coasts of West Bengal and neighbouring Bangladesh but could still be strong enough to "cause large-scale and extensive damage", said the head of India's weather office Mrutyunjay Mohapatra. It was moving north-northeastwards at a speed of 14 kmph.
According to data obtained from states, more than five lakh people in West Bengal and more than 1.5 lakh people in Odisha have been evacuated added the DG.
Authorities in both countries said that they were using extra shelter space to reduce crowding, while also making facemasks compulsory and providing extra soap and sanitiser.
Authorities, however, were mindful of the difficulty they could face in ensuring social distancing norms at these shelters in the state which has witnessed a surge in COVID-19 cases over the last few days.
"We will try to maintain social distancing as much as possible", she said.
The system is now being continuously tracked by the Doppler Weather Radar (DWR) at Vishakhapatnam, Paradip and Gopalpur, he said.
He said NDRF personnel working closely with the State forces in evacuating people from areas falling in the path of the cyclonic storm.
"We have literally had to force people out of their homes, make them wear masks and put them in government buildings", said a senior police official in West Bengal's capital, Kolkata.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi reviewed the situation with Union Home Minister Amit Shah and top government officials in New Delhi. The Indian Express, covering the developing storm in a live blog, noted on the evening of May 19 that the cyclone had weakened, and that damage to Odisha may not be as bad as had been forecast.
Cyclone Amphan is now a Category 5 cyclone in the Bay of Bengal and can become a very severe cyclonic storm potentially in the next 24 hours.
"Amphan" has visited the state a year after cyclone Fani barrelled through vast parts of Odisha on May 3, claiming at least 64 lives and destroying vital infrastructure.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) on Tuesday issued a fresh cyclone alert for West Bengal and north Odisha coasts as Amphan, categorised as an "extremely severe cyclonic storm", is expected to cross between Digha in West Bengal and Hatia Islands in Bangladesh, close to the Sundarbans, on May 20.
Pradeep Jena, the Odisha state official, said the state has over 800 centers that are used during floods or cyclones, each holding 2,000 to 3,000 people.
Intense rainfall was recorded in several areas of Puri, Khurda, Jagatsinghpur, Cuttack, Kendrapara, Jajpur, Ganjam, Ganjam, Bhadrak and Balasore districts since Tuesday.
Quick response teams comprising trained civil defence volunteers and vehicles with safety gear have already reached the districts. In Odisha, 13 teams are deployed and 17 are on standby.
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