Over 100,000 people have been evacuated from coastal areas in India and Pakistan ahead of the expected landfall Thursday of a fierce cyclone that could devastate homes and tear down power lines. According to government weather monitors, Cyclone Biparjoy, whose name means “disaster” in Bengali, is coming across the Arabian Sea and is expected to land as a “very severe cyclonic storm” around 5:30 p.m. local time. Powerful winds, storm surges, and lashing rains are forecast to hammer a 325-kilometer (200-mile) stretch of coastline from Mandvi in India’s western state of Gujarat to Karachi in Pakistan.
Authorities in India’s western state of Gujarat evacuated over 75,000 people from vulnerable coastal communities as cyclone Biparjoy churned rough seas. Bazaars and beaches in Mandvi, usually a bustling fishing town famed for its wooden boat-makers, were deserted as the region braced for the storm. Authorities in India’s neighboring Pakistan put the country’s flood-ravaged southern Sindh province on high alert, with the storm expected to slam into coastal Keti Bandar port and inundate surrounding areas.
Early on Thursday, the storm, classified as a severe cyclone, was centered 180 km (112 miles) off Jakhau port in Gujarat and 270 km (168 miles) off Karachi in Pakistan, the India Meteorological Department said. It appeared to have lost some of its intensity, with sustained wind speeds of 115-125 kmph (71-78 mph) gusting up to 140 kmph.
Pakistani officials warned that a large chunk of the country’s population, including in hard-hit areas still recovering from devastating floods last year, is at risk from Biparjoy. Pakistani Climate Minister Sherry Rehman urged citizens to avoid unnecessary travel and stock up on essentials. She said the capital, Karachi, won’t be hit directly by the cyclone but will feel the massive storm’s forceful winds and pounding seas. Local charities and aid groups were helping people move to safer areas.
Forecasters warn that the powerful storm could stall and fizzle over the waters. It is expected to run into easterly winds high in the atmosphere and fight increasing wind shear, which causes a disruption in the rotation of the storm and weakens it.
The cyclone has not yet caused any reported loss of life. Still, the meteorological departments said that heavy rains and gale-force winds would likely bring flooding and debris in parts of India and Pakistan. The cyclone has brewed over the southeast Arabian Sea for weeks, steadily intensifying and absorbing moisture. It has delayed the arrival of this year’s monsoon rains, which generally arrive by mid-June and break the summer heat with torrential downpours. The rains are crucial to agriculture and water supply. They also help regulate the weather, preventing draughts and droughts and triggering floods in some areas. In the past decade, cyclones have killed hundreds of people and wreaked havoc in Asia. The Asia-Pacific region is prone to catastrophes due to its warm ocean waters and high humidity.