Biparjoy nears Pakistan’s coast, likely to make landfall on Thursday evening; Karachi’s Hawkesbay cordoned off

0
372

Sherry Rehman says evacuations from coastal areas “not optional”, urges public to follow govt guidelines and advice.

Cyclone Biparjoy — which is expected to make landfall tomorrow (June 15) evening between Keti Bandar in Sindh and Kutch in Indian Gujarat — moved closer to Pakistan’s coast and was at a distance of about 310km from Karachi on Wednesday night after it made a turn northeastward, staying on its projected path.

Key developments

Sherry Rehman says public safety govt’s first priority; says people in at-risk areas would be forced to evacuate as there is “no other option”
Power minister says cyclone has disrupted RLNG supply, which will affect electricity supply
CAA refutes reports of airport closing, warns of possible disruption in flight schedules
Sindh minister Sharjeel Memon says over 67,000 people have been evacuated from vulnerable areas; Hawkesbay cordoned off
India’s weather office warns of severe damage
The latest alert issued by the Pakistan Meteorological Department around 9:30pm today said the cyclone was at a distance of about 310km south of Karachi, 300km south-southwest of Thatta and 240km south-southwest of Keti Bandar.

“Maximum sustained surface winds are 150-160km/hour, gusts 180km/hour around the system centre and sea conditions being phenomenal around the system centre with maximum wave height [of] 30 feet,” the alert said.

It added that under the existing upper-level steering winds, the “very severe cyclonic storm” was likely to keep tracking north-northeastward and was expected cross between Keti Bandar and the Indian Gujarat coast in the evening on June 15, packing winds of 100-120km/h.

It further said that widespread wind-dust/thunderstorm-rain and some very heavy/ extremely heavy falls were likely in Sindh’s Thatta, Sujawal, Badin, Tharparkar, Mirpurkhas and Umerkot districts during June 14-17. These areas could also experience squally winds blowing at 80-100km/hour.

Likewise, dust/thunderstorm-rain with few heavy falls and squally winds of 60-80km/hour are likely in Karachi, Hyderabad, Tando Mohammad Khan, Tando Allahyar, Shaheed Benazirabad and Sanghar districts from June 14-16.

Balochistan’s Hub and Lasbela districts could also witness dust/thunderstorm-rain and isolated heavy falls during this time, the forecast said.

Meanwhile, Zoom Earth said in an update posted at 8pm that “Biparjoy continues to battle its environment as it rides the western edge of the subtropical ridge to the east”.

In 12 hours, the system would decrease in intensity to 110km/hour as a result of more dry air entrainment from the northeast and the effects of the previously stated upwelling, the update said, adding that over the next 24 hours, Biparjoy would continue to decrease in intensity to 100km/hour due to land interaction before making landfall near the India-Pakistan border.

“In 36 to 48 hours, Biparjoy will dissipate inland over northern India,” it added.

Power minister warns of increased electricity load-shedding
Energy Minister Khurram Dastgir alerted citizens about a “temporary decline in RLNG-based (Re-Gasified Liquefied Natural Gas-based) electricity generation and temporary increase in load-shedding” due to the cyclone disrupting RLNG shipping to Pakistan.

In a tweet, he said, “We are ensuring full fuel supplies to K-Electric to maintain routine [electricity] supply to Karachi citizens.”

Separately, in an Islamabad press conference, he said all necessary arrangements were finalised to cope with the possible impact of cyclone Biparjoy in coastal areas of the country.

The government was fully prepared to cope with the effects of the cyclone, he said.

Dastgir said he was going to Karachi along with the Power Division secretary in the evening to personally monitor the entire situation.

He said three senior officials of the ministry were also deputed one each in Mirpur Khas, Karachi and Hyderabad to supervise operations.

The minister said five power distribution companies (Discos), Gujranwala Electric Supply Company (Gepco), Lahore Electric Supply Company (Lesco), Faisalabad Electric Supply Company (Fesco), Multan Electric Power Company (Mepco), and Sukkur Electric Power Company (Sepco), were also activated to provide support to Hyderabad Electric Supply Company (Hesco) for restoration of electricity in case of power disruption.

On directives of the prime minister, 2,000 employees from the said Discos were being dispatched to the coastal areas to provide support to Hesco for power supply restoration in case of power suspension, Dastgir added.

Some 280 teams from the DISCOs, 50 from Sepco and 45 teams of Hesco would move to be likely affected coastal areas, he said.

The energy minister said shipping to the Port Qasim RLNG terminals was stopped which also caused the suspension of gas to K-Electric, Bahadur Shah and Bikki Power Plants. Consumers could face one-hour additional power load management for the next four days (June 15-18 or 96 hours), he said.

He said that water discharge from the Tarbela dam was enhanced to generate additional electricity. “Power plants based on expensive fuel can also be run if we require,” he said.

Replying to a question, the minister said there was no major disruption from coal-based power plants so far. However, he said that the cyclone could affect the power transmission system in the coastal areas.

He said the government diverted gas to the power plants and K-Electric to minimise the possible power shortfall.

To another question, he said two to four-hour maximum power load-shedding was being carried out in urban areas as per losses.

He said some 5000 megawatts of electricity was added to the system from various projects, including Thar coal, K-3 Nuclear and Hydel projects.

‘No other option’, Rehman says on evacuations
In a press conference, Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman said the cyclone’s distance from Karachi was increasing as it veered towards the east but at the same time warned that it was coming closer to the coastal areas.

She cautioned that both thunder and rainstorms were expected to occur and could cause substantial damage.

She urged people, especially in Karachi, to refrain from dabbling in “disaster tourism” and going to the beach to witness the storm and called on them to cooperate with authorities.

Rehman also asked for the cyclone not to be linked with nature but with climate change as a result of human activity and emissions. “Pakistan has become a hotspot of climate change,” she added.

In a media talk earlier today alongside National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Chairman Lt-Gen Inam Haider Malik, Rehman said Biparjoy was following the path that had been predicted.

Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman along with Chairman National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) General Inam Haider Malik brief media representatives on cyclone Biparjoy in Islamabad on June 14. — AFP
“It seems Biparjoy is going northeast and it seems it will take a hard right even further to the east which means it will go past the megacity of Karachi,” she said.

Noting that “some friends are saying its intensity has decreased”, Rehman said, “That might be the case but when it […] comes to landmass, its effects are also maximised.”

The minister asserted that the government had been taking steps to tackle the effects of the cyclone, adding that today was “a buffer day” to complete any remaining preparations.

She highlighted that 75 relief camps had been set up to accommodate those who were evacuated, and most of them were places with stable roofs, such as schools and colleges.

Rehman reiterated that people’s hesitation to evacuate and panic were natural and they were “leaving space for it”. However, she said people in at-risk areas would be forced to evacuate as there was “no [other] option”.

Emphasising that public safety was the government’s first priority, the minister recalled there were reports of fishermen heading back to the sea and urged the public to stay away from the coastline.

“I want to take note of the fact that the areas that will face the brunt of the storm are the same areas that suffered a major impact of the 2022 floods,” Rehman said.

Meanwhile, the NDMA chairman said Biparjoy’s projected landfall, as of 11am, was between the Keti Bandar and the Indian Gujarat coast. “It can make landfall at any time between tomorrow morning and afternoon,” Malik added.

In a scenario where more areas than expected were impacted by the storm and inundated, he said there would be a “second stage relocation”.

In a separate address while speaking on the floor of the National Assembly, Rehman noted that Karachi’s Defence Housing Authority (DHA) had begun voluntary evacuations and advised citizens to avoid leaving their belongings outside without securing them.

“Especially those near Seaview, in DHA and Darakshan, absolutely do not leave your pets, livestock and people outside. Tomorrow, you have to wait for landfall because the cyclonic winds can attain any velocity,” she said.

Rehman highlighted that the first step was to secure solar panels installed on roofs and advised citizens to remain cognisant of electricity poles. Asking those who were being evacuated to cooperate with the state authorities and staff, she urged them to not return to their homes until authorities told them to do so.

‘Follow govt guidelines and advice’
Taking to Twitter earlier in the day, Rehman said the cyclone was “still on path for tomorrow” as she urged citizens to stay calm and vigilant.

“Follow government guidelines and advice. Every department concerned is working round the clock to reduce public exposure and risk. Saving lives is our first priority. All measures are in place so please cooperate,” she said.

She also shared a list of evacuation centres in Sindh for “high impact districts”.

The minister also shared the predicted heights for the first and second high tides in a day from June 13-17 at four coastal points across Sindh — Karachi, Keti Bandar, Sir Creek and Gharo.

Urging citizens to stay away from coastal areas, beaches, creeks and fishing wharves, she said, “Tidal waves can cause damage, sudden flooding and pose serious risks to small crafts that are still venturing out.

“Caution has to be exercised until the risk is over,” Rehman added.

Early on Wednesday, the minister had said that while panicking was understandable and human nature, it was important to “move with calm and caution”.

“Evacuations are painful, stressful and hard to embark on but we must insist on them in areas where see #CycloneBiparjoy making landfall. For coastal areas like Keti Bandar evacuations are not optional,” she said.

Rehman also shared a clip of her appearance on Geo News programme Aaj Shahzeb Khanzada Kay Sath from last night, in which she reiterated the same.

She said that the cyclone would hit Keti Bandar on June 15, adding that evacuating citizens was imperative. She recognised that it was “very painful” for people but evacuating was necessary.

Khanzada then pointed out that reports suggest some people in Keti Bandar was resisting evacuation and asked if authorities would use force.

“Yes, it will have to be done,” she said, adding that the government had responsibilities and use of force was not ideal. She said it was better to save lives rather than lift dead bodies.

“There is no option. And if they resist, the government’s directives are that evacuations are necessary […] there is no doubt about Keti Bandar, it will have to be done,” she said.

Later, she shared a tropical cyclone safety guide on Twitter saying that it was better to make provisions instead of panicking. “The storm is veering north-east and east, as predicted, but wind and rainfall may be high,” Rehman added.

Evacuations in Karachi’s DHA
On the other hand, voluntary evacuations have begun in Karachi’s Defence Housing Authority (DHA).

DHA Spokesperson Farrukh Rizvi told Dawn.com that mandatory evacuation would begin if the situation worsens and the need arises.

Earlier, a tweet from the DHA’s official Twitter account also said that it “urged” citizens of “high-alert areas” to evacuate their homes.

It said, “Rising high tides pose an imminent threat to Karachi. Residents residing in Abdul Sattar Edhi Avenues and Do Darya are urged to evacuate and follow DHA Karachi’s instructions.”

It further said that relief camps have been set up in case residents faced transport issues or could not go to a relative’s house for shelter.

The helpline said residents could either go to the relief camps on their own or the authority could facilitate them when the need arose.

However, in a tweet in the early hours of Wednesday, safety and security adviser Norbert Almeida said the DHA has ordered those residing on the ground floor of Seaview Apartments to evacuate the building today.

He said, “So just met with DHA Vigilance Rangers and Police combined team who have come to Seaview Apartments ringing doorbell.

“Their message, order is only for Ground Floor residents to leave during the day of June 14, 2023,” he added.

Separately, SSP South Syed Asad Raza also told Dawn.com that people living in around 2,000 apartments were reluctant to evacuate, adding that the police could not force them.

Dozens detained at Seaview, Hawkesbay cordoned off
SSP Raza said over two dozen people were detained for violating Section 144 imposed by the authorities to prevent citizens from going to beaches in view of the approaching cyclone.

The official also told Dawn.com that all the restaurants located near Seaview in Defence Phase-VIII would be closed to avoid any eventuality. He said the DHA had asked restaurant owners to vacate the place.

Roads leading to Hawkesbay blocked with containers. — photo by Imtiaz Ali
Meanwhile, a press release issued by the Keamari police said that all the routes leading to Hawkesbay had been cordoned off with containers.

It stated that police personnel were deployed on the roads and urged the public to refrain from heading towards the beaches until the cyclone situation persisted.

“Those violating the orders will be arrested and a case will be registered against them,” the press release added.

CAA refutes reports of airport closing
In an official statement, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) refuted reports of Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport being closed due to the approaching cyclone.

It said, “In the case of prediction of bad weather, safety measures are taken at the airport as per the set SOPs. Keeping the pilots continuously informed about the wind speed and the weather is a routine matter.

“In unusual circumstances, pilots decide on the nearest suitable destination for take-off or landing by considering the terrain and weather conditions,” the CAA added.

The authority said it has already issued a notice to the pilots and airlines urging them to be cautious regarding the matter.

However, the CAA warned the citizens that flight schedules could be disrupted by the airlines in case of bad weather.

Separately, the climate change minister said flight operations of small aircraft were suspended for now from Jinnah International Airport and related flight paths.

“Will share other plans later in the day,” she tweeted.

Later, she said during a press conference that commercial flights would be stopped if wind speed reached 30 knots, which is equivalent to 55.6km/hour.

An official announcement on the matter is yet to be made by the authorities.

More than 60,000 evacuated from vulnerable areas, says Sindh minister
Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Inam Memon said a total of 67,367 people had been evacuated from “vulnerable areas”.

He shared district-wise figures of the evacuations as of 4pm today, according to which 91.85 per cent of the people who needed to be evacuated had been moved to a safer location.

The PPP minister said the provincial government was still evacuating more citizens and his party’s elected representatives were available on the ground along with the provincial administration.

Separately, the United Nations said it would help Pakistan and India in dealing with the impacts of the approaching cyclone Biparjoy, the state-run Radio Pakistan reported.

It added that UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric gave the assurance while responding to a question at a regular briefing in New York. He said the UN teams in India, Pakistan and other countries were tracking the storm and doing whatever they could to prepare for the aftermath.

India’s weather office warns of severe damage
India’s weather department said roads will be inundated along parts of the country’s western coast and thatched houses were likely to be destroyed.

It said Biparjoy was situated about 280km from Jakhau Port in Gujarat and was expected to make landfall around Thursday evening.

High tides crash into stalls at the seafront, in Mumbai on June 14. — AFP
“As of now, our forecast is it will cross as a very severe cyclonic storm. After crossing, its intensity will fall and become a cyclonic storm and depression,” Manorama Mohanty, the Gujarat director of the India Meteorological Department (IMD), told reporters.

Meteorologists said the cyclone packed winds with maximum sustained speeds of 125-135 km (78-84 miles) per hour, gusting up to 150 km (93 miles) per hour, and warned high tides in the Arabian Sea could inundate low-lying areas along the coasts during the landfall.

Temporary thatched houses could be completely destroyed while standing crops, plantations and roads were expected to face major damage, the IMD said in a statement, adding that railways could also face disruption.

“Coastal districts of Gujarat have started receiving heavy rainfall,” a senior official with the state-run IMD said.

“From Wednesday evening, the intensity of rainfall and wind speed would increase. On Thursday, extremely heavy rainfall is expected. Some districts could get more than 200 mm rainfall on Thursday.”

Eight districts in coastal Gujarat are expected to be affected, the state government said. Fishing has been suspended until Friday and schools have declared holidays.

Many offshore oil installations and major ports, which line up the coasts in Gujarat have been forced to suspend operations.

“We have evacuated more than 45,000 people so far. The evacuation operations will continue till today (Wednesday) evening, mainly in Kutch,” said Kamal Dayani, a senior official in the Gujarat state government.

India’s armed forces were “ready to provide every possible assistance”, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh wrote on Twitter, with disaster response teams mobilised and warning of the risk of “flooding in some low-lying areas”.

Five people have been killed in India, including two children who were crushed when a wall collapsed, and a woman was hit by a falling tree while riding a motorbike.