At least three people dead as howling winds and waves the height of double-decker buses belt eastern India in the Covid-stricken country's second cyclone in as many weeks.
At least three people have died as howling winds and waves the height of double-decker buses belted eastern India in the Covid-stricken country's second cyclone in as many weeks.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday 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.
The storm packed lashing rain and winds gusting up to 155 kilometres (95 miles) an hour, the equivalent to a category two hurricane.
Many scientists say cyclones are becoming more frequent and severe in the northern Indian Ocean as climate change warms the sea.
Very severe #CycloneYaas today made landfall near Dhamra port in eastern Indian state Odisha's Bhadrak district, Land fall time video#CycloneYaasUPDATE #YaasCyclone #Yaas #CycloneYass pic.twitter.com/VWC55lkm5B— Debashis Mohapatra (@debashis_bapun) May 26, 2021
Last week Cyclone Tauktae claimed at least 155 lives in western India.
The latest system, Cyclone Yaas, has forced the evacuation of more than 1.2 million people in the eastern states of West Bengal and Odisha.
The Indian Meteorological Department said landfall began around 0330 GMT (9 am) and warned it would generate waves higher than rooftops in some areas.
"We have been experiencing heavy rainfall and strong winds since last night," said Bibhu Prasad Panda, a resident of Balasore district in the storm's path.
"Several trees have been uprooted. The cyclone has also led to snapping of overhead electricity cables."
At 1130 hrs IST, Cyclone ‘Yaas’ is about 220 km south-southeast of Paradip. To intensify further and cross north Odisha-West Bengal coasts close to north of Dhamra and south of Balasore, during 26th noon as a Very Severe Cyclonic Storm. pic.twitter.com/zTtUNddPyl— India Meteorological Department (@Indiametdept) May 25, 2021
Scared coastal residents
Nearly 20,000 houses were damaged and more than a dozen river islands were flooded with a number of embankments breached, Banerjee said.
"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."
Locals feared the situation would worsen in the evening as the tide rises to a higher level than normal because of a full moon.
"My house is already submerged under four feet of water. I don't know what will happen during the full moon tonight," Mostak Ahmed told AFP by phone from Khulna, in the country's south.
'Every life is precious'
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.
"We have received reports regarding the death of two people ... Local officials are investigating the two incidents," Jena said.
West Bengal's main city, ordered its international airport to shut down for most of Wednesday. The airport in Odisha's capital, Bhubaneswar, followed suit.
"Every life is precious," said Odisha's chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, as he appealed for people not to "panic" and to move away from the coast.
A record 4,800 disaster workers had been positioned in the two states, equipped with tree and wire cutters, emergency communications, inflatable boats and medical aid, the National Disaster Response Force said.
In neighbouring Bangladesh one man was killed by a falling tree as the waves smashed through water defences and inundated thousands of homes, officials told AFP.
Cyclone Yass is centered about 40 kilometers from Dhamra and continues to lash many parts of North Odisha, especially districts like Bhadrak, Jagatsingpur, and Balasore, with strong winds and heavy rains.#CycloneYass pic.twitter.com/5g6ptNIRoR— Prasar Bharati News Services पी.बी.एन.एस. (@PBNS_India) May 26, 2021
Both states are struggling with the coronavirus wave that has left more than 120,000 dead across India in the past six weeks.
While masks have been distributed in emergency shelters and relief workers are trying to impose social distancing, many officials fear the new cyclone will only speed up the spread of the virus.
"This cyclone spells double trouble for millions of people in India as there is no respite from Covid-19," said Udaya Regmi, South Asia head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
The storm "is a terrible blow for many people in coastal districts whose families have been struck down by Covid-19 infections and deaths," West Bengal state minister Bankim Chandra Hazra told AFP.
Hazra added that it would be "a big challenge" to maintain social distancing in the emergency shelters.
Some vaccination centres in threatened districts as well as Kolkata suspended operations because of the storm and a special operation had been launched to ensure the supply of oxygen and medicines to hospitals, officials said.
Officials in neighbouring Bangladesh, a regular target of cyclones, said they expected the low-lying delta nation to be spared this time.
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 modern-day Bangladesh.
Odisha's worst-ever cyclone, in 1999, killed 10,000 people. Last year Cyclone Amphan, the worst since 1999, caused widespread devastation but timely evacuations meant fatalities were fewer than 150.