KARACHI: Thousands of people living in coastal towns and small islands in Pakistan left their homes for safer places ahead of the approaching Cyclone Biparjoy that is expected to make landfall in the country on Thursday.
Strong winds, showers and high tides heralded the arrival of Cyclone Biparjoy, which means disaster or calamity in the Bengali language.
Classified as a "very severe cyclonic storm" of category 3, Biparjoy is expected to make landfall with winds of approximately 140-150 kilometres per hour (km/h) and gusts up to 170 km/h.
According to the latest forecast, the cyclone was expected to maintain a northward trajectory and then it was likely to re-curve eastward and make its landfall between Keti Bandar in Thatta district and India's Gujarat coastline.
The areas likely to be affected included Thatta, Badin, Sajawal, Tharparkar, Karachi, Mirpurkhas, Umerkot, Hyderabad, Ormara, Tando Allahyar and Tando Mohammad Khan, according to weather experts.
Information shared by the Sindh Chief Minister's House showed that out of the total vulnerable population of 71,380 residing in seven talukas of three districts (as estimated by the government), a total of 56,985 people were evacuated by Tuesday evening.
Of these, over 22,000 people were evacuated voluntarily.
The evacuation took place in Keti Bandar and Ghora Bari, part of Thatta district; Shah Bandar, Jati and Kharochann, part of Sujawal district; Shaheed Fazil Rahu tehsil (district Badin) and Badin.
Thirty-seven relief camps have been set up at different sites including government schools and colleges.
The Pakistan Navy said that troops had evacuated 700 people from various villages of Shah Bandar and 64 fishermen were rescued from the sea.
Naval emergency response and medical teams had been deployed at coastal areas of Balochistan and rural areas of Sindh including Hyderabad, Shaheed Benazirabad, Sukkur and Sanghar, while naval ships were maintaining vigilance in the open sea, it added.
Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman urged people to stay calm, adding that the federal government was engaged with the Sindh and Balochistan governments while the prime minister was supervising risk mitigation and reduction efforts and had directed all relevant ministers to remain engaged on a 24/7 basis until the emergency is resolved.
She said that the cyclone was "still on path."
"The cyclone's reduced intensity is limited to the Balochistan side, but people in Kund Malir, Hub, Lasbela and Winder are advised to exercise caution. Please don't take the early warnings casually and remain vigilant," she said.
The cyclone will not directly hit Karachi; however, it will certainly hit Keti Bandar, she said on Tuesday.
She said that Karachi would likely receive 110mm of rainfall, whereas Thatta, Badin, and Sajawal are expected to receive 330mm of rain.
"We have a red alert [in place] till June 18 and will issue a new advisory at 11 or 12 o'clock on the day [the storm is expected to make a landfall]," she added.
In a tweet separately, she said: "Panic is understandable, human nature; but it's important to move with caution & calm."
"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."
The Army, Navy, Rangers and district administrations moved people to shelters and relief camps, which were set up in schools and other government buildings.
Pakistan Meteorologist Department (PMD) Sindh Chief Meteorologist Sardar Sarfaraz told Geo News that the storm's intensity had decreased somewhat.
"There is no dangerous situation in Karachi, the cyclone will exit from the city's south," he said.
He, moreover, added that the storm was heading toward the north.
"It will then move north-east, where it will hit or pass Keti Bandar and India's Gujarat," he said, commenting on the cyclone's trajectory.
He also shared that there is a possibility of light to moderate rainfall in Karachi on Wednesday.
However, the port city will probably receive heavy rainfall on Thursday and Friday.
Earlier, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who chaired a meeting to review the preparedness ahead of the possible impact of the cyclone, directed the Sindh government, the National Disaster Management Authority and other relevant organisations to utilise all-out resources to protect the people.
In view of the storm, the prime minister also ordered the establishment of mobile hospitals in the coastal areas to ensure adequate emergency medical assistance there.
He also ordered for provision of clean drinking water and food at the camps.
The prime minister instructed Power Minister Engineer Khurram Dastgir Khan to ensure his presence in the districts of southern Sindh until the effects of the cyclone were over, to monitor the 24-hour power transmission system in the coastal areas.
He said that after the cyclone, the possible damage to the power transmission system should be repaired immediately. He also set up a committee to deal with the emergency situation.
Pakistan is still recovering from losses caused by unprecedented floods last year in which more than 1,700 people were killed, and over 33 million people were affected.