Digha, India: At least five people died Wednesday 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.
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.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said that the seaside town of Digha had been “swamped” by waves up to four meters (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.
At least one crore people have been affected in West Bengal and three lakh houses damaged due to #CycloneYaas, CM Mamata Banerjee informed
The CM added that over 15 lakh people have been evacuated and moved to safer areas pic.twitter.com/f1hmd46c22
— Hindustan Times (@htTweets) May 26, 2021
The storm-packed lashing rain and winds gusting up to 155 kilometers (96 miles) an hour, the equivalent to a category two hurricane.
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 the Arabian Sea.
“I have never seen such a storm ever in my life,” said Digha resident Purnendu Jana. “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 houses were damaged and more than a dozen river islands were flooded, with a number of embankments breached, Banerjee said.
Some reports claimed much larger damage on the property from Yaas. Visuals showed low-lying areas inundated with waters from the many rivers and the sea in the region.
In Odisha, a young man and a priest were killed in separate incidents after they were crushed by falling trees.
There was extensive damage with hundreds of trees uprooted, some bringing down power lines, relief official Pradeep Kumar Jena said.
Some thatched homes were also damaged during the storm, but telecommunication networks were not affected, he added.
The state’s chief minister Naveen Patnaik said the aid would be provided to more than 100 villages cut off by the tidal surge.
In neighboring Bangladesh, one man was killed by a falling tree as the waves smashed through water defenses and inundated thousands of homes, officials told AFP.
The Bangladesh military added that 12 crew onboard a cargo ship carrying stones in the Bay of Bengal were rescued after it sank amid the extreme conditions.
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.
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 storm will further complicate efforts to halt a surge in coronavirus cases that has now killed 310,000 people in the country.
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 centers 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.
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 there were fewer than 150 fatalities.
As cyclone Yaas was due in the Bay of Bengal region, transportation in the region was suspended. Kolkata and Odhisa airport operations were stopped, and the Eastern Railway halted scheduled trains in the region.
Yaas made landfall at roughly 9 AM in the morning and by 6, Kolkata International airport resumed operations and the first trains carrying oxygen supply left Tatanagar for Jharkhand, Bihar, and other regions.
COVER IMAGE COURTESY OF SCROLL VIA TWITTER
With AFP inputs.