A powerful cyclone made landfall Wednesday along the coasts of India and Bangladesh, forcing more than 2.6 million people to flee their homes.
Cyclone Amphan, which is now as strong as a category 3 hurricane, packed winds registering at 105 miles an hour and is expected to push seawater more than 15 miles inland, according to the Associated Press.
The area that will be most affected by the cyclone is one of the poorest in the region, and is home to around 58 million people living in the neighboring countries of India and Bangladesh, the Associated Press reported. The area includes small fishing villages, tribal groups living in forests, refugee camps and the major Indian city of Kolkata.
Although the last few years were marked by a drop in the number of cyclones passing through the Indian Ocean, meteorologists predict that Amphan will be one of the most destructive cyclones ever recorded in the region. The cyclone is set to pass through the mangrove forests along the perimeter of the Bengal Delta.
The area is also home to major refugee camps, such as the Kutupalong Camp in the Bangladeshi city of Cox’s Bazar. Over the last several years, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar and arrived in Bangladesh as refugees fleeing religious persecution from Myanmar’s majority-Buddhist population. (RELATED: Bangladesh Bans Two International Islamist Charities)
The cyclone has also seriously complicated the region’s ability to contain the coronavirus, with India and Bangladesh so far reporting a combined 135,000 cases and around 3,700 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. The storms and winds would most likely destroy critical infrastructure and impact supply lines, making it more difficult for authorities to enforce public health guidelines and distribute medical equipment, according to the Associated Press.
Indian chief meteorologist Mrutyunjay Mohapatra emphasized the importance of taking immediate action in a statement Wednesday. “The next 24 hours are very crucial. This is a long haul,” he said.