WORLD Cyclone batters eastern India, 1.5 million seek shelter


Cyclone batters eastern India, 1.5 million seek shelter


16:27, May 26, 2021

Officials said that Cyclone Yaas could generate waves higher than rooftops in some areas. (Photo: AFP)

Torrential rains, howling winds and colossal waves slammed eastern India on Wednesday in the Covid-stricken country's second cyclone in as many weeks, forcing more than 1.5 million people into shelters.

Cyclones are a regular occurrence in the northern Indian Ocean but many scientists say the storms are becoming more frequent and severe as climate change warms the sea.

Last week, Cyclone Tauktae claimed at least 155 lives including dozens of oil rig workers as it hit western India, the fiercest to hit the area in several decades.

Now Cyclone Yaas has forced the evacuation of more than 1.5 million people in the eastern states of West Bengal and Odisha.

Even before the cyclone made landfall, coastal areas were buffeted by huge waves, lashing rain and winds gusting up to 155 kilometres (95 miles) an hour, the equivalent to a category-two hurricane.

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said that the seaside town Digha has been "swamped" by waves the height of a double-decker bus.

"The surge in the rivers also flooded more than 12 islands and breached a number of embankments," she 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."

'Terrible blow'

Almost 5,000 disaster workers were deployed with tree and wire cutters, emergency communications, inflatable boats and medical aid, the National Disaster Response Force said.

Officials fear the emergency will further complicate efforts to halt a surge in coronavirus cases that has now killed 310,000 people.

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 centres 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.

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 then, caused widespread devastation but timely evacuations meant fatalities were fewer than 150.

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