An estimated one crore people were affected and three lakh houses damaged as Cyclone Yaas raged through coastal areas of West Bengal, causing storm surges two to three metres high and flooding coastal districts on Wednesday (May 26).
The tourist towns of Digha and Mandarmoni in East Midnapore district and several islands in Sunderban areas in South and North 24 Parganas districts were the worst affected as surging waters inundated towns and villages.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said more than 15 lakh people were evacuated to relief centres and other safer places. One person died when he went out fishing despite the rough weather in East Midnapore. Banerjee said it was an “accidental” death.
Yaas, classified as a severe cyclonic storm, made landfall on Wednesday (May 26) morning and continued to wreak havoc for a few hours over coastal areas of West Bengal. Visuals from the worst-hit areas showed sea waves cresting over tree tops, bikes being swept away by the gushing waters and cars floating in floodwaters.
A reporter and photo-journalist from a local TV channel had a narrow escape while covering the calamity at Digha. Their car was washed away. In several places trees were uprooted and houses flattened as the wind swept at 150kmph. As the timing of the landfall coincided with the high tide, it caused a greater storm surge, the CM said.
The surging waters breached embankments at 134 places in the affected coastal districts, ingressing saline waters in farm lands and fisheries.
The extent of damage has not yet been calculated. But the CM said the state has allotted relief material worth ₹10 crore. The impact of the damage was, however, much less than what was anticipated. The state government set up a round-the-clock control room in the secretariat annexe where the CM stayed overnight to monitor the cyclone situation.
Relief and rehabilitation efforts have been started in the affected areas. The CM said she would visit the affected areas on Friday (May 28) to take stock of the damage.
Meanwhile, Yaas, which means ‘jasmine’ in Persian, has weakened into a ‘severe cyclonic storm’ with 100-110 km per hour winds and 120 km per hour gusts after crossing Odisha.
At 1.30pm it was 15km from Balasore and centred over north coastal Odisha. It is expected to weaken further into a ‘cyclonic storm’ over the next six hours, moving north-northwest towards Jharkhand.
Earlier, the cyclone crossed the north Odisha coast about 20km south of Balasore between 10.30 and 11.30am, with 130-140km per hour winds and 150km per hour gusts.
The worst-affected districts in Odisha were Balasore, Bhadrak, Jagatsinghpur and Kendrapara. In West Bengal, South and North 24 Paraganas, Digha, East Medinipur and Nandigram were among the most affected. Thirteen low-lying areas of Kolkata were flooded.
Villagers have been cautioned against going home, with weather reports still predicting strong winds and heavy rain. Kolkata’s Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport is closed till 7.45 pm, Bhubaneswar’s Biju Patnaik International Airport is closed till 5 am on Thursday (May 27), while Veer Surendra Sai Airport in Odisha’s Jharsuguda is shut till 7.45 pm on Thursday. Durgapur and Rourkela airports will stay closed today.
Indian Railways has cancelled till Saturday, 38 long-distance passenger trains headed to both Kolkata and southern states.
The naval base INS Chilka is co-ordinating relief efforts with operations supported by Eastern Naval Command Headquarters in Visakhapatnam. The Army has deployed 17 columns in Bengal. Three columns and an engineering force have been sent to Odisha. The Air Force’s Eastern Command, which is based in Meghalaya, has also moved in to help.
There has been no major damage reported from Odisha so far, although trees have been uprooted in Bhadrak district and some areas have been flooded. The government has warned people that heavy rains may continue and has urged them to stay indoors. Around 5.8 lakh people were shifted from low-lying regions in Odisha.
Yaas, like Tauktae, struck at a time when the country is battling the second wave of COVID. Officials said the storm will complicate efforts to halt the surge in COVID-19 cases. Masks are being distributed at emergency shelters, but maintaining social distancing will be a challenge. Vaccination drives in affected areas have also been suspended.