The coastal regions of India and Pakistan are on high alert with tens of thousands being evacuated a day before Cyclone Biparjoy is expected to make landfall.
Classified as a very severe cyclonic storm, Biparjoy, currently packing maximum sustained winds of up to 145 kilometres an hour (90mph), was situated about 280km (174 miles) from Jakhau port in western India’s Gujarat state and was expected to make landfall sometime on Thursday evening.
“It will touch Kutch-Saurashtra coast (in Gujarat) adjoining the Pakistan coast between Mandvi and Karachi and near Jakhau port on June 15 from 4pm to 8pm in India (10:30-14:30 GMT),” Manorama Mohanty, the Gujarat director of the India Meteorological Department (IMD), told reporters.
Residents living within 5km (3 miles) of the coast in Gujarat were evacuated, and those living within 10km (6.2 miles) may also have to move out, officials said. The Press Trust of India news agency said nearly 40,000 people have been evacuated to relief camps in Gujarat.
In neighbouring Pakistan, auditorium halls in schools and other government buildings were converted into relief camps to provide shelter to displaced people in the southern districts, including Thatta, Keti Bandar, Sajawal and Badin – regions that only last summer were affected by the devastating floods that displaced thousands.
Ships and boats have been moved from some areas of Pakistan’s coast while hospitals in the region were put on high alert as part of preparations for the cyclone. About 100,000 people will be evacuated by Wednesday morning, Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority said.
Four people have been killed so far in incidents related to the cyclone, including three boys who drowned off Mumbai’s coast and a woman who was killed due to an accident caused by strong winds in Gujarat.
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.
“The oceans have become warmer already on account of climate change,” Raghu Murtugudde, an Earth system scientist at the University of Maryland said.
Another study, in 2021, found that the frequency, duration and intensity of cyclones in the Arabian Sea had increased significantly between 1982 and 2019, he said.
Cyclone Tauktae in 2021 was the last severe cyclone that made landfall in the same region. It killed 174 people, a relatively low figure thanks to extensive preparations ahead of the cyclone.
In 1998, a cyclone that hit Gujarat state killed more than 1,000 people and caused excessive damage. A cyclone that hit Sindh province and the city of Karachi in 1965 killed at least 10,000 people.