Team effort helped convince Indians, Bangladeshis to evacuate for cyclone

A masked woman in Kolkata, India, tries to protect her son from heavy rain as they rush to a safer place before Cyclone Amphan makes its landfall, May 20, 2020. (CNS photo/Rupak De Chowdhuri, Reuters)

Sheltering people from one of the strongest storms in more than a decade required convincing affected Indians and Bangladeshi that evacuation centers would have masks and other coronavirus protections in place, a Catholic Relief Services representative said.

Cyclone Amphan slammed into low-lying areas of India and Bangladesh May 20, with winds of up to 115 miles an hour and surging waters as high as 16 feet.

Advertisement

Nearly 3 million people have evacuated their homes and moved to emergency shelters in the two countries.

In a coronavirus lockdown, this "natural disaster is doubly traumatic, and people will want to go back to their homes as soon as possible," Senthil Kumar, Catholic Relief Services' representative for India, said May 20 from Delhi.

[Don’t miss the latest news from the church and the world. Sign up for our daily newsletter.]

With COVID-19, "people were wary of going to shelters," he said, noting that with widespread understanding "of the need for social distancing and hygiene" measures, "people weren't sure how this would work in the evacuation centers."

But with the cyclone's lashing winds and heavy rainfall, "evacuation is essential," Kumar said. "We've had community volunteers talking about the arrangements and reassuring people" who had to move, he said.

The Indian government, church agencies and civil society "took the approach of ensuring this was not camping," he said.

Centers that would normally fit 100 people are now set up for one-third of that number "and images of people sitting apart with masks on" were widely shared, he said. Schools and other solid structures are being used as extra shelters to enable adequate spacing, he said.

[Want to discuss politics with other America readers? Join our Facebook discussion group, moderated by America’s writers and editors.]

While there is "so much panic about COVID-19," the "heightened focus on health infrastructure" that the coronavirus has brought "is being used to prepare for this disaster too," Kumar said.

The number of COVID-19 cases in India, which has a population of 1.3 billion people, reached 100,000 May 19. The Indian government has extended the nationwide lockdown, but May 17 relaxed rules in areas with fewer cases.

With early warning systems providing "enough time to prepare" for the cyclone, Bangladesh also set up evacuation centers with similar support, Kumar said.

"People have moved with their most precious belongings," he said, noting that "it helps that trusted people in the community give these messages of reassurance."

Shortly before the cyclone hit, many thousands of migrant workers were on India's roads trying to return to their village homes after the lockdown destroyed their livelihoods.

Most are men who find part-time labor on farms or work in India's cities in manufacturing and other industries, including at small hotels, Kumar said.

Catholic Relief Services and others are helping the migrants to stay in camps until the cyclone has run its course, Kumar said. "Afterward, we will help them get back to their homes," he said.

Heavy rainfall was expected to lead to flash flooding across the region, and the damage would have a "considerable impact on the livelihoods of communities," he said.

Many of those in the storm's path "are fishermen, and they have been warned not to be out at sea" for a while, he said.

While farmers harvested early and "preserved what they could, there is only so much they can do," Kumar said, noting that food security will be endangered "depending on the severity of the damage" to crops and plantations.

We don’t have comments turned on everywhere anymore. We have recently relaunched the commenting experience at America and are aiming for a more focused commenting experience with better moderation by opening comments on a select number of articles each day.

But we still want your feedback. You can join the conversation about this article with us in social media on Twitter or Facebook, or in one of our Facebook discussion groups for various topics.

Or send us feedback on this article with one of the options below:

We welcome and read all letters to the editor but, due to the volume received, cannot guarantee a response.

In order to be considered for publication, letters should be brief (around 200 words or less) and include the author’s name and geographic location. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

We open comments only on select articles so that we can provide a focused and well-moderated discussion on interesting topics. If you think this article provides the opportunity for such a discussion, please let us know what you'd like to talk about, or what interesting question you think readers might want to respond to.

If we decide to open comments on this article, we will email you to let you know.

If you have a message for the author, we will do our best to pass it along. Note that if the article is from a wire service such as Catholic News Service, Religion News Service, or the Associated Press, we will not have direct contact information for the author. We cannot guarantee a response from any author.

We welcome any information that will help us improve the factual accuracy of this piece. Thank you.

Please consult our Contact Us page for other options to reach us.

When you click submit, this article page will reload. You should see a message at the top of the reloaded page confirming that your feedback has been received.

[Explore all of America’s in-depth coverage of the coronavirus pandemic]

Advertisement

The latest from america

Robert MacDougall in “Boys State” (photo: A24) 
In a new award-winning documentary about Texas Boys State, democracy is fraught with conflict.
Ryan Di CorpoAugust 14, 2020
We use the words “mystery” and “miracle” not to say that science has been stumped but rather to express the expansive claim that an event makes upon us.
Terrance KleinAugust 14, 2020
It has been two years since the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report was published, documenting in disturbing detail at least 1,000 cases of abuse by 300 predator priests spanning seven decades.
Colleen DulleAugust 14, 2020
The precedent for attacking an opponent on religious grounds is more apt than you might think.