Storm surges inundated dozens of villages in eastern India yesterday after a powerful cyclone moved inland from the Bay of Bengal, damaging thousands of mud homes in two coastal states and killing at least two people, officials said.
Barely a week after Cyclone Tauktae claimed at least 155 lives in western India, Cyclone Yaas has forced the evacuation of more than 1.5 million people in the eastern states of West Bengal and Odisha.
Cyclone Yaas was packing gusts of up to 140 kph (87 mph) as it made landfall around 0900 HRS IST (Indian Standard Time),” or 0330 GMT, the Indian Meteorological Department said.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said that the seaside town of Digha had been “swamped” by waves up to four metres (13 feet) high.
She said two people had been killed, including one dragged into the sea by the waves in Digha and another crushed when his house collapsed.
“I have never seen such a storm ever in my life,” said Purnendu Jana, a Digha resident. “The water may cross the main road for the first time.”
Local hotel owner Shiuli Das said: “Many of us are here, all of us are really scared.”
Nearly 20,000 mud houses and temporary shelters were either destroyed or damaged and more than a dozen river islands were flooded with a number of embankments breached, Mamata said.
The busiest regional airport, in the city of Kolkata, had been shut until Wednesday evening.
In Odisha there was also extensive damage with hundreds of trees uprooted although there was minimal damage to power infrastructure, relief official Pradeep Kumar Jena said.
The cyclone was expected to weaken gradually into a deep depression around midnight. The wind speed at the centre of the cyclone at 9:00 PM was 75 to 85 km per hour with gusts of 95 km per hour.
Although the weakened considerably, the cyclone is predicted to bring heavy rains and authorities have advised fishermen not to venture out to sea. Jharkhand, which lays on the way of the storm, was also put on high alert. Officials yesterday began to evacuate people from low-lying areas in vulnerable districts like East and West Singhbhum.
Almost 5,000 disaster workers were deployed in India with tree and wire cutters, emergency communications, inflatable boats and medical aid, the National Disaster Response Force said.
Officials fear the emergency will further complicate efforts to halt a surge in coronavirus cases that has now killed 310,000 people.
Masks were distributed in emergency shelters but West Bengal state minister Bankim Chandra Hazra told AFP that maintaining social distancing would be “a big challenge”.
“This cyclone spells double trouble for millions of people in India as there is no respite from Covid-19,” said Udaya Regmi from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Some vaccination centres in threatened districts, as well as Kolkata, suspended operations and a special effort had been launched to ensure the supply of oxygen and medicines to hospitals, officials said.
Cyclones are a regular menace in the northern Indian Ocean but many scientists say they are becoming more frequent and severe as climate change warms the waters of the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea.
Some of the deadliest storms in history have formed in the Bay of Bengal, including one in 1970 that killed half a million people in what is now Bangladesh.
Odisha’s worst-ever cyclone, in 1999, killed 10,000 people. Last year Cyclone Amphan, the worst since then, caused widespread devastation but timely evacuations meant fatalities were fewer than 150.