A powerful cyclone is set to slam into India early on Wednesday, the second in less than two weeks, with authorities evacuating more than one million people at a time when the nation is facing the world’s worst outbreak of Covid-19.
Cyclone Yaas, equivalent to a category 3 hurricane, will cause heavy rains in the eastern states of West Bengal and Odisha, with wind speeds as high as 185 kilometers (115 miles) per hour, according to the India Meteorological Department. Sea levels may increase four meters above regular tides and inundate low-lying areas, it said.
West Bengal has so far shifted about 900,000 people to various relief centers, Mamata Banerjee, the state’s chief minister told reporters Tuesday. About 370,000 people, including state government officials, police, army officers, rehabilitation workers and volunteers, are working together to handle the situation, she said.
More than 200,000 people have already been moved from coastal areas of Odisha to safer places and the operation is still continuing, Pradeep Jena, the state’s additional chief secretary said in a text message. Sealing and fortification of doors and windows in hospitals and Covid-19 health facilities are also being done, he said. The government has identified more than 6,500 pregnant women with delivery dates before June 1 and is moving them to hospitals as a priority.
The latest storm follows a severe cyclone that hit the west coast last week — the worst in over two decades in the western state of Gujarat — killing dozens after a barge sank in the sea. The eastern region was hit by a cyclone in May 2020 with similar wind speeds, while another one in 2019 prompted authorities to evacuate millions of people.
The timing of the storm poses several challenges for already stressed authorities in the country, which is battling a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. The infections have strained India’s health system and overwhelmed crematoriums and hospitals. They have also spread to rural areas, where about 70% of the nation’s 1.3 billion people live.
Federal Home Minister Amit Shah asked the state governments to ensure adequate power backup for hospitals, laboratories, vaccine cold stores and other medical facilities, the ministry said in a statement.
Ports, refineries and plants were on alert. Indian Oil Corp., the biggest refiner, has stopped unloading crude oil at Paradip in Odisha, according to a spokesman.
Ongoing construction activities by oil and gas companies in the region have been temporarily suspended, according to Indian Oil. All ships carrying crude oil and other related products have been asked to keep a safe distance from the cyclone’s path, it said in a statement, adding that efforts are underway to ensure smooth supply of liquid medical oxygen from the eastern parts to the rest of the country.
The weather department advised fishermen to suspend operations in the area and return immediately to the coast. The storm could damage houses and roads, disrupt movement of trains and disrupt power and telecommunication services, it said in a statement.
In neighboring Bangladesh, the government has readied three times more storm shelters than are usually needed to accommodate people evacuated from coastal areas, said Enamur Rahman, state minister for disaster management. But the country sees no major damage from the cyclone as it’s likely to move toward India’s Odisha, he said.
Both Paradip Port Trust and Dhamra Port said all vessels at the anchorage will move to a safer area in the sea, while those alongside berths have been asked to keep their main engines ready to move to sea at short notice.
Oil explorers in the Bay of Bengal have been asked to take all precautions to maintain safe operations, the Directorate General of Hydrocarbons said in a Twitter post. Oil and Steel Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said as a precautionary measure all major oil and steel industrial units along the east coast will operate with minimum manpower for the next two to three days.
Authorities are cautious this time after a fatal accident last week. The Indian Navy recovered 70 bodies after a barge and a tug boat, working for state-run Oil & Natural Gas Corp., sank following cyclone Tauktae that hit the west coast on May 17. The navy rescued 188 people, but some are still missing.
–With assistance from Debjit Chakraborty, Dhwani Pandya, Arun Devnath and Swansy Afonso.
About the photo: A man walks past damaged scaffolding of a factory due to the impact of Cyclone Tauktae near Amreli on May 18, 2021 after Cyclone Tauktae hit the west coast of India with powerful winds and driving rain, leaving at least 24 people dead and almost 100 missing. Photographer: Punit Paranjpe/AFP/Getty Images
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