Yaas fury lashes east coast
Howling winds and waves the height of double-decker buses marooned villages and rendered hundreds of thousands of people homeless in eastern India as Cyclone Yaas swept inland in Odisha on Wednesday, killing four people and triggering torrential rainfall.
India Meteorological Department (IMD) officials said “very severe cyclonic storm” Yaas made landfall near Barajadhauli village in Odisha’s Balasore district at 9am, and then moved north-west.
Winds gusting at 140 kmph tore through coastal villages and cities in Odisha and West Bengal, crushing homes, uprooting trees and snapping power lines. Yaas coincided with the spring tide as rising waters breached river embankments and flattened mud houses.
Chief minister Naveen Patnaik said the districts of Bhadrak and Balasore were worst affected and people in 128 submerged villages will get relief for the next seven days. He said power will be restored in the next 24 hours in 80% of the affected areas.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee quoted initial estimates to say 10 million people were affected, 300.000 homes were destroyed and 134 embankments breached by Yaas-triggered storm surges.
“Extensive damage has been done because the cyclone coincided with the spring tide. The water level will reach its peak, more than 5m, on Thursday morning so we have to stay alert for the next 48 hours,” she added.
Yaas also caused widespread rainfall in Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh and is expected to cause some showers in Bihar, northern West Bengal and northeastern states. “Cyclonic storm Yaas is likely to move further northwestwards and weaken gradually into a deep depression during next three hours over Jharkhand,” IMD said in the evening.
In Odisha’s Keonjhar district, an elderly man was crushed to death after a tree was toppled by strong winds. In Balasore town, a young man was killed after a tree fell on him. In Mayurbhanj, an old woman died after the wall of her house collapsed. In West Bengal, a man stepped out from a cyclone relief centre to catch fish and drowned in the storm waters.
Yaas is the second powerful cyclone to hit the country in 10 days, after Tauktae pummeled the western coast and killed nearly 100 people. Last year, West Bengal and Odisha were devastated by cyclone Amphan which killed 98 people.
Odisha’s special relief commissioner Pradip Jena said the cyclone did not inflict any major damage on electrical and telecom infrastructure as it had considerably weakened from its initial assessment due to vertical wind shear.
“Under influence of the cyclone, heavy to very heavy rainfall started in Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar district from Wednesday. The highest rainfall, 304mm, was recorded at Kusumi in Mayurbhanj district. We are also expecting that large number of trees will be uprooted in Mayurbhanj district,” he said.
Jena said most roads blocked by fallen trees in Balasore, Bhadrak, Kendrtapara and Jagatsinghpur were cleared by rescue personnel. The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) has deployed 113 teams for relief and rescue operations.
Tidal surges inundated three seaside village in Balasore district marooning 5,000 people and a flash flood in Basudevpur block of Bhadrak district marooned people in 10 villages. People in Basudevpur dig up a road to divert seawater. In Mahalakpada area of Kendrapara district, several villages were flooded by seawater following breaches in saline embankment, officials said.
Preliminary assessment in West Bengal estimated that it would take at least three days to assess the actual damage. “I will soon be undertaking an aerial survey of the affected areas in Purba Medinipur, South 24 Parganas and North 24 Parganas districts,” Banerjee said.
Rainwater also swamped the Bengal seaside resort of Digha with visuals showing people wading through chest-deep water. Many 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.
In Kolkata, too, low-lying areas along the banks of Hooghly and Tolly’s canal such as Chetla, Kalighat and Rashbehari were flooded. The high-profile assembly seat of Nandigram was flooded, as were many villages in the east Midnapore district.