MUMBAI, India – The Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) has expressed it’s “sincere prayers and sympathies” at the loss of life and the damage caused by Cyclone Amphan, which hit the Indian states of Odisha and West Bengal, as well as neighboring Bangladesh, last week.

“The CBCI is one with the suffering people of Odisha and West Bengal. It calls upon all Civic and Church authorities to reach out to help bring relief to all those affected by this cyclone. In our prayers we remember all those affected by this cyclone, COVID-19 and all those migrants who are still on their way home,” Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay and president of the CBCI, said in a statement.

With an economy crippled by India’s eight-week lockdown, and health care systems sapped by the virus, authorities must tackle both COVID-19 and the cyclone’s aftermath.

The challenges are many: Crowded shelters could emerge as viral clusters, outbreaks of other diseases triggered by the cyclone and flooding, and jobless migrant workers returning to villages from cities like Mumbai and New Delhi, potentially bringing the virus with them.

The pandemic made evacuations harder since many cyclone shelters were being used for quarantining virus patients.

The cyclone has also magnified existing inequalities, with poor families more likely to have stayed in crowded, enclosed shelters, which could be a recipe for spreading the virus.

The cardinal credited the “timely intervention” by the local government for the fact that less than 90 people died during the storm, but he noted that over 60 percent of the people in West Bengal have been affected by the cyclone, and entire villages have been devastated.

The archbishop’s house in Kolkata was also damaged by the storm, as was a Catholic cemetery in Sealdah.

This story incorporated material from the Associated Press.