Thousands Evacuated in India and Pakistan as Cyclone Biparjoy Approaches

By Sibi Arasu and Munir Ahmed | June 14, 2023

BENGALURU, India (AP) — Pakistan’s army and civil authorities planned to evacuate 80,000 people to safety along the country’s southern coast before the arrival of Cyclone Biparjoy, and thousands living in low-lying regions of western India already have sought shelter from the tropical storm system, officials said Tuesday.

The cyclone forecast to slam ashore on Thursday is expected to be the most powerful to hit western India and Pakistan since 2021. On Tuesday morning, Biparjoy was in the Arabian Sea 470 kilometers (292 miles) south of Karachi, the capital of Sindh province, Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority said.

The cyclone was packing maximum sustained winds of 180 kilometers per hour (111 mph), according to the India Meteorological Department. It is projected to make landfall near Jakhau port in the Kutch district of India’s Gujarat state.

Residents living within 5 kilometers (3 miles) of the coast in Gujarat were evacuated, and those living within 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) may have to move out over the next two days, officials said.

C. C. Patel, director of relief in the Gujarat state government, said 20,580 people from Gujarat’s coastal districts already were moved “to relief camps where they will be provided with food, drinking water” and other essentials.

Authorities also banned gatherings on beaches and along shorelines during the cyclone. All ports, including two of India’s largest, Mundra and Kandla, were shut down as a precaution.

Government officials in Gujarat told the Press Trust of India news agency that one woman was killed and her husband injured after strong winds caused a tree to fall on their motorcycle.

In the neighboring state of Maharasthra, four boys were washed away by a high tide off Mumbai’s Juhu Beach on Monday evening. One body was recovered, and search and rescue operations were ongoing for the three others, officials said. Authorities had closed Mumbai’s beaches during high tide.

Fishermen in both countries were asked to stay ashore and move their boats to safer locations.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he chaired a meeting to review preparedness plans. ”Our teams are ensuring safe evacuations from vulnerable areas and ensuring maintenance of essential services. Praying for everyone’s safety and well-being,” he tweeted Monday night.

In Islamabad, Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif also chaired a meeting on preparations for the approaching cyclone. He asked authorities to provide food, shelter and other aid to displaced families and to complete the evacuation of all those at risk.

Authorities backed by the military have evacuated about 45,000 people from coastal towns in the past two days. Another 35,000 were expected to be moved before the cyclone’s hits land on Thursday. However, strong winds already were reported from some of the southern coastal areas.

Pakistan’s climate change minister, Sherry Rehman, said during a news conference Tuesday in Islamabad that the cyclone was expected to hit some of the districts where floods last summer that left 1,739 people dead and caused $30 billion in losses..

She said the government would do its best to ensure the speedy evacuation of people from coastal areas and promised efforts would be made to return them home once the situation improves.

Experts say climate change is leading to an increase in cyclones in the Arabian Sea region, making preparations for natural disasters all the more urgent. Pakistan is among the top 10 countries most affected by climate change, although the country’s contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions is less than 1%.

“The oceans have become warmer already on account of climate change,” Raghu Murtugudde, an Earth system scientist at the University of Maryland. said. A recent study shows that the Arabian Sea has warmed up by almost 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) since March this year, making conditions favorable for severe cyclones, he said.

A 2021 study found that the frequency, duration and intensity of cyclones in the Arabian Sea had increased significantly between 1982 and 2019, he said.

U.N. climate reports have also stated that the intensity of tropical cyclones would increase in a warmer climate. A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2019 found that since the 1950s, the fastest sea surface warming has occurred in the Indian Ocean.

In 1998, a cyclone that hit Gujarat state claimed more than 1,000 lives and caused excessive damage. A cyclone that hit Sindh province and the city of Karachi in 1965 killed more than 10,000 people.

–Ahmed reported from Islamabad.

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