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A plea for prayer after super cyclone batters Indian villages already suffering from coronavirus

by Tola Mbakwe

A Christian humanitarian worker India has urged people to pray for the safety of people whose communities have been hit by a powerful cyclone. 

Cyclone Amphan slammed ashore along the coastline of India and Bangladesh on Wednesday where more than 2.6 million people have fled to shelters in a frantic evacuation made all the more challenging by coronavirus.

It was the equivalent of a category-3 hurricane and packed winds of up to 105mph and maximum gusts of 118mph.

The cyclone began to make landfall between Digha, a seaside resort in West Bengal, and Hatiya Islands in Bangladesh. 

The eye of the storm is likely to pass through the Sunderbans, one of the largest mangrove forests in the world, according to India's meteorological department.

Shivani Rana, an emergency programme officer with Christian Aid in New Delhi, India told Premier the cyclone has caused extensive damage to flimsy houses.

"It's mainly destruction to thatched houses and mud houses. A lot of the marginalised and poor population are living in these districts. 

"The cyclone has also uprooted communication and power poles, some roads have been damaged and trees have been uprooted. 

"We have yet to get any information about any causalities that have happened so far."

Some cyclone shelters in West Bengal were being used for quarantining Covid-19 patients and migrant workers returning to their homes. The state government asked for trains transporting migrants to be suspended, chief minister Mamata Banerjee said. Some schools were turned into shelters.

Some in the cyclone's path saw a choice between the virus and the storm.

In the seaside resort of Digha, many people feared going to the shelters, said fisherman Debasis Shyamal.

"They have been home for weeks, and are afraid of going into a crowd where they could get infected," he said.

The densely populated city of Kolkata, which has nearly 1,500 coronavirus cases, is likely to see flooding, while some centuries-old buildings in the northern half of the city could collapse due to the strong winds, officials warned.

Rana told Premier the Indian government has faced a big challenge to coordinate evacuations while maintaining social distancing.

She has encouraged people to pray that the cyclone coupled with the coronavirus pandemic doesn't lead to mass casualty. 

"People are in dire need," she said. 

"They're already facing the crisis of Covid-19 in most eastern part of India, and now they are being hit by this cyclone. 

"So keep them in your prayers and pray for their safety and well-being during such a crisis."

Christian Aid will be carrying out rapid assessments once the cyclone has settled down, with local teams on hand to respond to needs. 

Listen to Premier's interview with Shivana Rana here:

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