Thousands of people have been moved to storm shelters in 19 coastal districts of the country as Cyclone Amphan is set to make landfall this evening with heavy rainfall and storm surges above 10 feet.
"This is one of the strongest cyclones formed in the Bay of Bengal and will hit the coast with a wind speed of around 160 miles per hour if it does not become weaker or change its course," Dr Samarendra Karmakar, former director of Bangladesh Meteorological Department, told this newspaper.
It will batter coastal areas of Bangladesh as well as India, said Samarendra, who has been observing the cyclone since its formation.
The extremely severe cyclone is going to bear down on Bangladesh at a time when the country is struggling to deal with the Covid-19 crisis.
As of 9:00pm yesterday, the cyclone was 650 km off the Mongla port with a wind speed of 160 miles per hour.
In its special bulletin last night, the Met office said it may hit the coastal areas of Bangladesh and India today evening.
The cyclone, under the influence of the new moon phase, could cause storm surges above 10 feet in coastal districts including Satkhira, Khulna, Bagerhat, Jhalakathi, Pirjojpur, Barguna, Patuakhali, Bhola, Barishal, Laxmipur, Chandpur, Noakhali, Feni and Chattogram.
Weather experts said Amphan turned into an extremely severe or category 4 cyclone from category 1 within just 18 hours as the temperature of the sea surface in the Bay had been very high (32 to 34 centigrade) over last two weeks due to impacts of climate change. The high temperature helped the cyclone gain more strength.
"We have never seen such high values until now. These high temperatures can super charge a cyclone since tropical cyclones primarily draw their energy from evaporation at the ocean surface," Dr Roxy Mathew Koll, a scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, wrote on his Facebook page yesterday.
"The evacuation of people in the coastal areas will continue the whole night. Many will move to cyclone shelters after Sehri. The number of evacuees will be nearly 20 lakh by tomorrow morning," said Enamur Rahman, state minister for disaster management and relief.
"We have arranged almost double the space we need to shelter 20 lakh people, keeping the coronavirus pandemic in mind," he mentioned.
District administrations in Khulna, Barishal and Chattogram divisions had been evacuating people from the vulnerable areas to cyclone shelters since yesterday morning, he added.
Elias Hossen, deputy commissioner of Chattogram, said district officials along with volunteers of the Cyclone Preparedness Programme and the Red Crescent are making sure that people are evacuated to cyclone centres.
"A total of 284 medical teams are ready, and 4,046 cyclone centres have been prepared to accommodate four lakh people with sufficient stocks of food and medicine," he said.
Dr Md Anwar Hossain Hawlader, commissioner of Khulna Division, said the district administrations were asked to strictly follow the health-safety guidelines, including social distancing, at the cyclone shelters.
Some 303 medical teams and 26,213 volunteers are ready in three coastal districts -- Khulna, Bagerhat and Satkhira -- to deal with any situation, he said.
In Barishal Division, many were evacuated to 4972 cyclone shelters.
"We have started evacuation. Directives have been given to ensure social distancing [at the cyclone shelters]," Mohammad Yamin Chowdhury, divisional commissioner of Barishal, told The Daily Star yesterday evening.
THE MOST VULNERABLE ONES
Most of the three lakh people living in char areas remain exposed to Cyclone Amphan.
Many of the chars have no cyclone shelters or any buildings. People have to take shelter in forests to protect themselves from tidal waves and gusts.
It's a big challenge to evacuate all the people from 21 islands in Bhola, said district officials.
Around 72,000 people were evacuated from the chars, they mentioned.
All the vessels anchored at different jetties of Chattogram port have been sent to the deep sea so that none of those washes ashore during the cyclone.
A total of 19 vessels from the berths were sent to the deep sea by 8:30am while most of the 51 vessels that were at the outer anchorage were sent to the deep sea through the Kutubdia Channel, Captain Faridul Alam, deputy conservator of Chattogram Port Authority.
Flight operations at Chattogram Shah Amanat International Airport will remain suspended today and tomorrow, said ABM Sarwar-e-Jaman, manager of the airport.
In a statement, Inter Services Public Relations Directorate (ISPR) said the navy has kept 25 ships ready for post-cyclone emergency evacuations and relief work.
It has also kept two maritime patrol aircraft and as many helicopters to carry out search operations after the cyclone.
Taking the situation into account, special medical teams will be formed to provide emergency health services in the cyclone hit areas. They will be involved in providing lifesaving medicines, oral saline and other materials.
Our correspondents from Khulna, Barishal and Chattogram contributed to this report