NEW DELHI >> Heavy rain and a high tide lashed parts of India’s eastern coast as a cyclone pushed ashore overnight in an area where more than 1.1 million people have evacuated amid a devastating coronavirus surge.
Cyclone Yaas already had caused two deaths and damage to homes as severe weather and rains affected Odisha and West Bengal states before the storm began making landfall in the late morning.
The “very severe cyclonic storm” has sustained winds of 130-140 kilometers per hour (up to 87 mph) that are gusting up to 155 kph (97 mph), the India Meteorological Department said.
“The landfall process of the storm has started, centered nearly 50 kilometers (30 miles) southeast of Balasore in Odisha state,” it said. Heavy rain and the sea tide flooded parts of coastal areas in West Bengal and Odisha states.
Television images showed knee-deep water flooding the beach area of Digha, a resort town in West Bengal state. Palm trees were whipped back and forth by strong wind gusts.
A tornado snapped electricity lines that electrocuted two people and damaged 40 houses in West Bengal’s Hooghly district on Tuesday, the top state elected official Mamata Banerjee said.
Kolkata airport is shut until 8 p.m. and train services were canceled before the storm as a precaution, the railroad department said.
The cyclone has dumped more than 17 centimeters (6.5 inches) of rain in Chandabali and Paradip regions of Odisha state since Tuesday, the meteorological department said. Tidal waves of up to 4 meters (13 feet) are likely to flood some low-lying areas.
At least 20 districts in West Bengal state were expected to feel the brunt of the storm. Fishing trawlers and boats were told to take shelter.
The cyclone coming amid a devastating coronavirus surge complicates India’s efforts to deal with both after another storm, Cyclone Tauktae, hit India’s west coast last week and killed more than 140 people.
Odisha’s chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, appealed to people being moved to cyclone shelters to wear double masks and maintain social distancing. “We have to face both the challenges simultaneously,” Patnaik said.
Thousands of emergency personnel have been deployed to help evacuate people and prepare for possible rescue operations, said S.N. Pradhan, director of India’s National Disaster Response Force. India’s air force and navy were also on standby to carry out relief work.
A year ago, the most powerful cyclone in more than a decade hit eastern India. Nearly 100 people died in Cyclone Amphan, which flattened villages and destroyed farms in eastern India and Bangladesh.
“We haven’t been able to fix the damage to our home from the last cyclone. Now another cyclone is coming, how will we stay here?” said Samitri, who uses only one name.
Some of the deadliest tropical cyclones on record have occurred in the Bay of Bengal. A 1999 “super” cyclone killed around 10,000 people and devastated large parts of Odisha. Due to improved forecasts and better-coordinated disaster management, the death toll from Cyclone Phailin, an equally intense storm that hit in 2013, was less than 50, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
The 1999 super cyclone reached wind speeds of 260-280 kph (161-173 mph).