Kolkata and nearby areas witnessed high-speed winds exceeding 100 km/ph accompanied by heavy rains as the severe cyclonic storm Amphan made a landfall in West Bengal on Wednesday afternoon.

Cyclonic storm Amphan is said to be one of the worst to form over the Bay of Bengal in many years.

Mrityunjay Mohapatra, the Director-General of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said that the eye of the cyclone, which is 30 km in diameter, has touched the land.

“Amphan is the most intense and the first super cyclone since the 1999 Odisha cyclone. We are dealing with a multi-hazard scenario as the devastating winds are expected to cause extensive damage to structures, houses and trees,” said Mohapatra.

Sanjib Bandyopadhyay, Alipore Met Department, (Eastern region) said the circular structure of the cyclone started making landfall in Bengal on Wednesday afternoon.

“The process started around 2.30 p.m. with the forward sector boundary of the cyclonic circle making the landfall in the coastal districts of Bengal. As per our records at 4 p.m. the wind speed was 105 km/hr in Kolkata which can go up to 130 km,” said Sanjib Bandyopadhyay adding that three coastal districts, South and North 24 Parganas and East Midnapore will be the worst affected, besides, vast swathes of South Bengal districts such as Kolkata, Howrah, Hooghly, West Midnapore will be among the most affected areas.

Areas such as Sagar Island, Kakdwip and Diamond Harbour in South 24 Parganas and Digha and Haldia in East Midnapore were battered by the storm, uprooting trees and electric poles and destroying many shacks.

Mayor of Kolkata and Minister in Charge Urban Development & Municipal Affairs Govt of West Bengal Firhad Hakim said, “We are keeping a close watch on the situation. The storm has caused some trees getting uprooted and power failure in various parts of the city. We have shifted a number of people from old dilapidated buildings in Kolkata to temporary rescue centres. Some of them have, however, refused to get relocated. Our officials are monitoring the situation on an hourly basis.

“I am at the TMC control room and supervising the overall situation in Kolkata. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is reviewing the situation from the Nabanna control room. She will be there at the state secretariat for the whole night. A task force spearheaded by State Chief Secretary Rajib Sinha is looking after the relief and rescue operations. The police are on high alert.”

All flyovers and elevated corridors were closed to vehicular traffic in Kolkata. Police sources said all flyovers have been barricaded and movement of vehicles suspended at various flyovers in the state capital.

Meanwhile, as many as five lakh people in West Bengal and 1.5 lakh in Odisha have been evacuated as per the data submitted by the state governments, the National Disaster Response Force said on Wednesday.

Apart from West Bengal, Odisha is also hit by Amphan as several parts of the state received heavy rainfall and saw strong winds and high tides. The wind speed is expected to be at a minimum of 155-165 km/hour and a maximum of 185 km/hour.

This is the second pre-monsoon cyclone to hit India in two years and has been anticipated as one of the worst storm over the Bay of Bengal in decades. Odisha was savaged by a super cyclone in 1999 that had claimed around 10,000 lives.

Forty-one teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), including seven reserves, have been deployed in the two states, its chief SN Pradhan said in New Delhi.

Due to social-distancing protocols in the wake of Coronavirus, the cyclone rescue centres having a capacity to hold about 1,000 people will have only 400-500 people, Pradhan said adding that Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba chaired a meeting of the national crisis management committee (NCMC) on Tuesday to take stock of the situation.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah also spoke to Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and his West Bengal counterpart Mamata Banerjee to review the situation.

Regional Director of the Meteorological Department GK Das said, “Storm surge of 4 to 5 metres above astronomical tide is likely to inundate low lying areas of South and North 24 Parganas and about 3 to 4 metres over low lying areas of East Midnapore district of West Bengal during the time of landfall.”

These districts had suffered the most during cyclone ‘Bulbul’ and ‘Fani’ last year.

In neighbouring Bangladesh, over two million people have been evacuated to safety to 12,078 cyclone shelters.

According to US space agency NASA, Amphan is the equivalent of a Category-5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. “It was designated Tropical Cyclone 01B. Overnight, it quickly strengthened to hurricane force,” NASA has said.

(With IANS inputs)