Authorities in Pakistan have begun efforts to evacuate more than 80,000 people out of the path of an approaching cyclone that could hit the southern parts of Sindh province and India’s Gujarat state, officials say.
The cyclone, named Biparjoy, is expected to make landfall on Thursday afternoon between Mandvi in Gujarat and Karachi in Pakistan with a maximum sustained wind speed of 125 to 135 kilometres per hour (78 to 84 miles per hour) with gusts up to 150km/h (93mph), according to officials in both countries.
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Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah said on Monday that an emergency has been declared and the army deployed to help relocate “more than 80,000 people” at risk.
“We will not request people but demand them to evacuate,” Shah told reporters, adding that the order was being issued through social media, mosques and radio stations.
A spokesman for Shah said about 2,000 people have already been evacuated from the area of Shah Bandar, a fishing town nestled among mangrove deltas 45km (28 miles) west of Gujarat.
The India Meteorological Department has advised fishing communities to halt operations and people in the Saurashtra and Kutch coastal areas of Gujarat to evacuate.
Cyclone Alert for Saurashtra and Kutch Coast: Orange Message. ESCS BIPARJOY lay at 0830IST today, about 320km SW of Porbandar, 360km SSW of Devbhumi Dwarka, 440km South of Jakhau Port, 440km SSW of Naliya. To cross near Jakhau Port (Gujarat) by noon of 15th June as VSCS. pic.twitter.com/8gHGLHt1XP
— India Meteorological Department (@Indiametdept) June 12, 2023
Two of India’s biggest ports – Mundra and Kandla – are in the Gulf of Kutch, which is in the path of the storm, while the Jamnagar oil refinery, the world’s biggest, is in the Saurashtra region.
Gujarat Pipavav Port Ltd said in a stock exchange filing on Monday that operations at its Pipavav Port had been suspended since late Saturday due to “prevailing severe weather conditions”.
Seven teams of India’s National Disaster Response Force and 12 teams of the State Disaster Response Force have been deployed in the districts likely to be affected by the cyclone, Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel said in a tweet.
Nearly a dozen districts in coastal Gujarat are expected to be affected by heavy rainfall and high winds although some of the districts are sparsely populated, which would limit the damage, said a weather official who declined to be named.
(visuals from Gateway of India) pic.twitter.com/UrnR0sahtE
— ANI (@ANI) June 12, 2023
Mud and straw homes most vulnerable to destruction
In Pakistan, coastal communities in Sindh province are forecast to receive 30cm (12 inches) of rain and suffer storm surges up to 3.5 metres (12 feet) high, which could inundate low-lying settlements.
Sindh is the second most populated province in the country.
The National Disaster Management Authority said instructions were being given for those in southern parts of the country who are likely to be affected.
The Pakistan Meteorological Department has warned that traditional mud and straw homes, which house the poorest in Pakistan, will be vulnerable to disintegration.
But in the settlement of Haji Ibrahim at a cluster of such structures, fisherman Abu Bakar said concerns over losing their livelihoods prevail.
“Our boat, goats and camels are our assets,” the 20-year-old said. “We cannot compromise on their safety.”
“But if the danger becomes imminent, we will be forced to leave to save our lives,” he conceded.
Karachi, Pakistan’s largest and most populous city, is also due to be deluged by dust and thunderstorms with winds whipping up to 80km/h (50mph).
Billboards will be removed and 70 vulnerable buildings evacuated in the city while construction will be stopped across the affected area.
‘Adverse effects of climate change’
Heavy rains and strong winds late on Saturday killed 27 people in northwest Pakistan, including eight children, officials said.
“Undoubtedly, these are the adverse effects of climate change,” Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Twitter on Sunday.
The strongest cyclone to hit Pakistan was the 1999 Keti Bandar, a category 3 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale. It resulted in the deaths of 6,200 people in Sindh’s impoverished Thatta district, where Biparjoy is also likely to hit.
In India’s Gujarat state, a 1998 cyclone killed at least 4,000 people and caused damage estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars.
Biparjoy delayed the onset of the annual monsoon over the southern state of Kerala, but now conditions are favourable for the progress of much-needed rains in parts of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu states, the weather office said.