New Delhi/Kolkata: Cyclone Amphan, one of the worst storms over the Bay of Bengal in years, will hit Bengal this afternoon. Amphan weakened from a super cyclone to an "extremely severe cyclonic storm" on Tuesday, causing strong winds and heavy rain in parts of Odisha and Bengal as it advanced towards the Indian coast. 

Amphan is expected to pack winds gusting up to 185 kilometres per hour when it crosses West Bengal's Digha and Bangladesh's Hatiya. 

Strong winds and heavy rain bathered Paradip in Odisha and South 24 Parganas in Bengal. Seven districts of Bengal are likely to face the direct impact of the cyclone. Kolkata, which is close to the coast, is also on alert. 

Fire services team cleared road blockage near the R&B office in Bhadrak, Odisha to facilitate the movement of vehicles, essential commodities, and emergency service personnel. The road was blocked after several trees fell due to the impact of the strong winds and heavy rainfall caused by the cyclonic storm.

Meanwhile, those living near the coast have been warned against stepping out and fishermen have been warned to stay off coast. Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said they should stay in from Wednesday morning until an all-clear was sounded on Thursday. 

"The tail-end of a cyclone can do worst damage, so people should not come out of their homes until they get an all-clear," she said, recalling that when Cyclone Fani hit last year, more died when the cyclone was leaving.

Describing the vulnerable areas as "red plus zones", Mamata Banerjee said she would stay overnight in the control room tonight (May 20).

According to media reports, cyclone Amphan along with the coronavirus fight pose a double challenge for the country, National Disaster Response Force chief SN Pradhan said on Tuesday. 

"We have told Bengal and Odisha, social distancing has to be maintained strictly in cyclone shelters. If a shelter has space for 1,000, then only 500 should be allowed," NDRF chief SN Pradhan told NDTV.

Amphan is only the second "super cyclone" to form in the northeastern Indian Ocean since records began. Indian Navy is on "high alert" on the east coast for relief efforts, an official statement said.