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Cyclone Pummels India, Bangladesh

An Indian man walks with his umbrella in the middle of heavy wind and rain along the river Brahmaputra in Gauhati, India, May 21, 2020.

The extent of the devastation caused by a powerful cyclone that pummeled parts of India and Bangladesh was not immediately known Friday because the cyclone left many towns and villages without power. At least 84 people have died.

Millions of people in both countries were evacuated to shelters ahead of Cyclone Amphan, officials said, but some people were reluctant to enter the shelters for fear of contracting COVID-19.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to conduct aerial surveys of the damage in West Bengal, Odisha, Kolkata and Bhubaneswar on Friday. He is also set to hold meetings with local officials.

“The impact of Amphan is worse than coronavirus,” West Bengal’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said, referring to the pandemic that has sickened and killed millions of people across the globe, including more than 110,000 people in India, according to the latest figures.

Amphan has been downgraded to a tropical depression but is still expected to drench parts of inland India and Bangladesh with heavy rains and floods, damaging some of the weaker houses and buildings.

Villagers repair their house damaged by Cyclone Amphan in Satkhira, Bangladesh, on May 22, 2020.
Villagers repair their house damaged by Cyclone Amphan in Satkhira, Bangladesh, on May 22, 2020.

The storm struck while South Asia struggles with the coronavirus pandemic.

UNICEF said the storm has put 19 million children at risk, not only from the direct effects of floods and wind damage, but from the potential spread of COVID-19 in crowded evacuation shelters.

“We continue to monitor the situation closely,” said Jean Gough, UNICEF regional director for South Asia. “The safety of children and their families in the areas that will be impacted is a priority and it is good to see that the authorities have planned their urgent response factoring in the on-going COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.

Amphan is causing additional misery for the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees living in camps in Bangladesh and Myanmar, which have already reported a number of COVID-19 cases.

Bangladesh has a history of being hit by cyclones, but Amphan ranks among the most powerful, said Save the Children in Bangladesh humanitarian director Mostak Hussain.

“We’ve received reports that more than 5 million people were disconnected from the electricity grid for their own safety as winds of 150 kph smashed into power lines, destroying homes and uprooting trees," Hussain said.