Cyclone ‘Yaas’, packing winds of up to 130-145 kmph, whiplashed the country’s eastern coasts on Wednesday, dumping heavy rain, damaging houses and farmlands, and leaving at least four persons dead - three in Odisha and one in Bengal — officials said. Thick sheets of rain blurred the vast coastline, as the cyclone made landfall around 9 am near Dhamra port in Odisha, with surging waters swamping the mud-and-thatch houses in the low-lying areas, where a massive evacuation drive has been undertaken to move more than 20 lakh people to safety.
The storm, which had weakened during the afternoon, had left the coastal states on edge, with the Bengal government claiming that at least one crore people have been affected by the calamity thus far, as it hollered on its destructive path towards Jharkhand. ‘Yaas’ is the second cyclonic storm to hit India within a week after ‘Tauktae’ tore into its western coast, causing death and destruction.
Seawater inundated several villages in Bahanaga and Remuna blocks in the Balasore district, and Dhamra and Basudevpur in the Bhadrak district, Odisha’s Special Relief Commissioner PK Jena said. The administration, with the help of the locals, is taking measures to drain out the saline water from the villages, Jena explained.
Heavy rainfall in the Similipal National Park in Mayurbhanj district sparked fears of a flash flood in the Budhabalang river. Water level in the river stood at 21 metre against the danger level of 27 metre, the special relief commissioner said. Local sources said two persons were killed - one each in Keonjhar and Balasore — after trees fell on them, but there was no official confirmation yet.
Another elderly woman in Mayurbhanj reportedly died after her house collapsed. Restoration work for power lines have started in several places of Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara and Jajpur districts after cables snapped, Jena said, adding that the storm will likely move to Jharkhand by midnight.
Odisha has shifted 5.8 lakh people to safer places, and West Bengal 15 lakh, ahead of the cyclone, amid concerns over spread of COVID-19 infection at the temporary shelters, given the fact that the country is battling the raging second wave of the pandemic. The Bengal chief minister has claimed that her state is the “worst-affected", pointing out that three lakh houses and 134 embankments have been damaged due to the cyclone.
She also said that one person, who was initially rescued, died “accidentally" later. Banerjee further stated that relief materials worth Rs 10 crore have been to the affected areas.
The scenic town of Digha in East Midnapore, which shares border with Balasore district of Odisha, lay swamped, with the Army being called in for rescue operations, a defence official said. Parts of the nearby tourist towns of Mandarmani, Tajpur and Shankarpur were also inundated, with seawaters entering the hotels and residential areas, besides causing damage to kutcha shops and houses.
In certain areas, the waves were seen surging as high as the coconut trees that line the popular beaches. A school, situated along the coast in Shankarpur, was washed away by the high and mighty sea waves.
The Army has deployed 17 columns in West Bengal to assist the administration, the defence official said. Rescue operation by the Army was also underway at Orphuli in the Howrah district, he said.
In South 24 Parganas, hundreds of villagers were displaced in Kakdwip, Fraserganj, Gosaba and the Sunderbans region, as multiple homes were extensively damaged in the surging water and gale winds, officials said. Several rivers were in spate owing to the phenomenal rise in water level — caused by the dual effect of storm surge and the astronomical tide due to the full moon.
Flooding was also reported from Sagar island at the confluence of Hooghly and Bay of Bengal. The compound of much-revered Kapil Muni Temple in Sagar Islands lay submerged, as tidal waves, as tall as five feet, crashed over the boardwalks.
Some fishing boats and equipment were destroyed at harbours in Kakdwip, leaving the fishermen devoid of their livelihood. “We will starve unless the government provides us with assistance," said a hapless villager at Kakdwip as his boat lay ravaged in front of him.
The Kolkata Port was on tenterhooks as Hooghly swelled to eight metres, surpassing the heights of the external lock gate of the Haldia Dock System, an official said. Army, National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), State Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and state police and civil defence volunteers were working round-the-clock to move people to safety, the officials said.
Water-logging was also reported from certain low-lying areas of Kolkata with the authorities facing a tough time clearing the area due to high tide in Hooghly, they said. The weather office has predicted extremely heavy rainfall in East and West Midnapore districts and heavy to very heavy rainfall in Jhargram, Bankura, South 24 Parganas districts over the next 24 hours.
People of 14 of the 23 districts of West Bengal faced electricity outage due to Cyclone Yaas and many sub-stations are under water following heavy rain induced by the storm on Wednesday, Power Minister Aroop Biswas said. He said he sought a report from the power utilities of the state for loss assessment within 72 hours.
“There is waist-level water in many locations. A number of sub-stations are now under water. Loss assessment will be available after ground surveys," Biswas said. The state-owned West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Limited (WBSEDCL) supplies power to most of the districts.
The minister said that no hospitals faced power crisis. Meanwhile, private power utility CESC Limited said that it had suspended electricity supply in some pockets of Kolkata and neighbouring areas following waterlogging as a safety measure.
The areas included Kalighat, Chetla, Budge Budge, Akra, Maheshtala, Sankrail and Metiabruz, a CESC official said. “At night, further outages may happen in some high tide affected locations. Our 2500-member team will stay active," the official said.
Heavy rain will occur at isolated places in Purulia, Nadia, Murshidabad, Purba Bardhaman, Howrah, Hooghly, Kolkata, North 24 Parganas, Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts owing to the effect of ‘Yaas’, the weather office said. In Odisha, a red warning for heavy to very heavy rainfall was issued in nine districts.
“Heavy to very heavy rainfall at a few places with isolated extremely heavy fall very likely to occur over the districts of Balasore, Bhadrak, Jajpur, Kendrapada, Jagatsinghpur, Cuttack, Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar and Dhenkanal," the weather office said. The cyclone lay centred at about 15 kilometre west of Balasore at 1.30 pm with intensity of 100-110 kmph, gusting to 120 kmph.
It would move north-northwestwards and weaken gradually into a cyclonic storm during the next six hours, the weatherman said. Jharkhand, which is already on high alert, continued evacuating low-lying areas during the day amid forecast that the cyclone would be hitting the state by midnight, officials in Ranchi said.
Evacuations are being carried out on war-footing in the vulnerable areas of East and West Singhbhum, besides some other districts, in view of the natural calamity, Disaster Management Secretary Amitabh Kaushal told PTI. East Singhbhum, West Singhbhum and Saraikela-Kharsawan districts of the state are likely to experience “very high seas", with wind speed of 92-117 kmph, the weather office said.
“We are ready to deal with the situation and have formed rescue teams," Jharkhand Director-General of Police Neeraj Sinha stated.