Before a cyclone hits part of India’s eastern coast around midday Wednesday, more than 1.1 million people have been evacuated from low-lying areas.
As severe weather and rains hit Odisha and West Bengal, Cyclone Yaas has already claimed two lives and damaged homes. It is expected to hit the ground around noon.
The India Meteorological Department said on Wednesday that the “very severe cyclonic storm” has sustained winds of 130-140 kilometers per hour (up to 87 mph) with gusts up to 155 kilometers per hour (97 mph).
On Tuesday, a tornado in West Bengal’s Hooghly district snapped electricity lines, electrocuting two people and damaging 40 homes, according to Mamata Banerjee, the state’s top elected official.
The Kolkata airport is closed until 8 p.m., and train services were canceled as a precaution before the storm, according to the railroad department.
Since Tuesday, the cyclone has dumped more than 17 centimeters (6.5 inches) of rain in Odisha’s Chandabali and Paradip regions, according to the meteorological department. Some low-lying areas are likely to be flooded by tidal waves of up to 4 meters (13 feet).
The storm was expected to hit at least 20 districts in West Bengal’s state. Fishermen’s trawlers and boats were advised to seek refuge.
The cyclone’s arrival coincides with a devastating coronavirus outbreak, complicating India’s efforts to combat both. Last week, another storm, Cyclone Tauktae, hit India’s west coast, killing more than 140 people.
Naveen Patnaik, the chief minister of Odisha, urged people being relocated to cyclone shelters to wear double masks and maintain social distance. “We have to deal with both challenges at the same time,” Patnaik said.
According to SN Pradhan, director of India’s National Disaster Response Force, tens of thousands of emergency personnel have been deployed to help evacuate people and prepare for possible rescue operations. India’s air force and navy were also ready to assist with relief efforts.
Eastern India was hit by the most powerful cyclone in more than a decade a year ago. Cyclone Amphan flattened villages and destroyed farms in eastern India and Bangladesh, killing nearly 100 people.
“We haven’t been able to repair the damage caused by the last cyclone to our home. How will we stay here now that another cyclone is on its way?” Samitri, who only goes by one name, explained.