Saturday, December 4News That Matters

Cyclone Yaas, ‘very severe storm’, makes landfall on Indian coast

Heavy rains and winds lash eastern India as COVID-stricken country’s second cyclone in as many weeks makes landfall, forcing more than 1.2 million people to seek shelter.

Heavy rains and howling winds are lashing eastern India as the COVID-stricken country’s second cyclone in as many weeks makes landfall at the coast, forcing more than 1.2 million people to seek shelter.

The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) on Wednesday said Cyclone Yaas made landfall about 9am local time (03:30 GMT), generating waves higher than rooftops in some areas.

“The landfall process started at 9am today. It will continue up to three or four hours,” Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, the IMD director-general, told Al Jazeera.

“Heavy rainfall continues in coastal districts of Odisha. The sea condition is rough. People should have patience and stay inside their homes.”

“We have been experiencing heavy rainfall and strong winds since last night,” said Bibhu Prasad Panda, a resident of Balasore district in the storm’s path.

“Several trees have been uprooted. The cyclone has also led to snapping of overhead electricity cables.”

A tornado that preceded the storm killed two people as it tore through West Bengal’s Hooghly district, authorities said.

Kolkata, West Bengal’s main city, ordered its international airport to shut down for most of Wednesday. The airport in Odisha’s capital, Bhubaneswar, followed suit.

“Every life is precious,” said Odisha’s Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik as he appealed for people not to “panic” and to move away from the coast.

A record 4,800 disaster workers had been positioned in the two states, equipped with tree and wire cutters, emergency communications, inflatable boats and medical aid, the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) said.

“We are on alert, keeping an eye on the cyclone. Though the wind speed is high, wherever possible we are moving to fields and rescuing people. We are trying to maintain the communication system too,” NDRF official Arun Devgam told Al Jazeera.

While masks have been distributed in emergency shelters and relief workers are trying to impose social distancing, many officials fear the new cyclone will only speed up the spread of the virus.

“This cyclone spells double trouble for millions of people in India as there is no respite from COVID-19,” said Udaya Regmi, the South Asia head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The storm “is a terrible blow for many people in coastal districts whose families have been struck down by COVID-19 infections and deaths,” West Bengal State Minister Bankim Chandra Hazra told the AFP news agency.

Hazra added that it would be “a big challenge” to maintain social distancing in the emergency shelters.

Some vaccination centres in threatened districts as well as Kolkata suspended operations because of the storm and a special operation 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 modern-day Bangladesh.

Odisha’s worst-ever cyclone, in 1999, killed 10,000 people. Last year Cyclone Amphan, the worst since 1999, caused widespread devastation but timely evacuations meant fatalities were fewer than 150.

Subrat Kumar Pati contributed to this report from Bhubaneswar, Odisha