India: States evacuated thousands of people as strong cyclone approaches
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For the second time in 10 days, India is set to be slammed by a powerful cyclone, or a hurricane-equivalent storm, bringing the risk of damaging winds, storm surge and heavy inland rainfall. The system, known as Yaas, is only a tropical storm as it swirls over the Bay of Bengal. But it is expected to intensify into a high-end Category 1-strength tempest before its midweek landfall along India’s northeast coast.
|This Monday, May, 24, 2021, satellite image provided by NASA shows Cyclone Yaas approaching India's eastern coast. Yaas is expected to make landfall on Wednesday, May 26, 2021, and could pack sustained winds of up to 165 kilometers per hour (102 miles per hour), the India Meteorological Department said. (NASA Worldview, Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) via AP)|
Cyclone Yaas is set to turn into a “very severe cyclonic storm” with sustained wind speeds of up to 177 kilometers (110 miles) per hour, the India Meteorological Department said. The cyclone is expected to make landfall early Wednesday in Odisha and West Bengal states, according to Associated Press.
The cyclone coming amid a devastating coronavirus surge complicates India’s efforts to deal with both just 10 days after Cyclone Tauktae hit India’s west coast and killed more than 140 people.
At least 86 people were killed by the storm, which caused an estimated $2.1 billion in damage, according to RMSI, a global-catastrophe risk-management consultancy.
Thousands of emergency personnel have been deployed in coastal regions of the two states for evacuation and possible rescue operations, said S.N. Pradhan, director of India’s National Disaster Response Force. India’s air force and navy were also on standby to carry out relief work.
Fishing trawlers and boats have been told to take shelter until further notice as forecasters warned of high tidal waves.
|Village men walk past as sea water gushes in after breaking an embankment on the Bay of Bengal coast in South 24 parganas, West Bengal state, India, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. Tens of thousands of people are evacuating low-lying areas as Cyclone Yaas is expected to make landfall early Wednesday in Odisha and West Bengal states. (AP Photo/Mehaboob Uddin Gazi)|
In West Bengal, authorities were scrambling to move tens of thousands of people to cyclone shelters. Officials said at least 20 districts in the state will feel the brunt of the storm.
Last May, nearly 100 people died in Cyclone Amphan, the most powerful storm in more than a decade to hit eastern India, including West Bengal state. It flattened villages, destroyed farms and left millions without power in eastern India and Bangladesh.
“We haven’t been able to fix the damage to our home from the last cyclone. Now another cyclone is coming, how will we stay here?” said Samitri, who uses only one name.
In Odisha, a state already battered by coronavirus infections, authorities evacuated nearly 15,000 people living along the coast and moved them to cyclone shelters, senior officer Pradeep Jena said.
In a televised address Monday, the state’s chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, appealed to people being moved to cyclone shelters to wear double masks and maintain social distancing. He asked authorities to distribute masks to the evacuated people.
“We have to face both the challenges simultaneously,” Patnaik said.
Yaas continues to strengthen
|Village women who have taken refuge at a cyclone shelter prepare a meal in Balasore district in Odisha, India, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. Tens of thousands of people were evacuated Tuesday in low-lying areas of two Indian states and moved to cyclone shelters to escape a powerful storm barreling toward the eastern coast. (AP Photo)|
Yaas has intensified over the past day over the Bay of Bengal and further intensification is likely, with winds on Tuesday morning near the equivalent of a Category 1 hurricane.
The very warm water will fuel more intensification before landfall. Sea surface temperatures are estimated to be as warm as 34 degrees Celsius (93 degrees Fahrenheit) in the northern Bay of Bengal, CNN reported.
The storm is also moving into an environment of weaker wind shear, which will allow it to organize and strengthen more. When wind shear is high, it often prevents a cyclone from intensifying and can sometimes cause it to dissipate.
Yaas is expected to make landfall between Paradip and Sagar islands on the north Odisha to West Bengal coasts by midday Wednesday local time. Winds are currently at 120 kph (75 mph) and should remain around this intensity near the time of landfall. This is equivalent to a minimal Category 1 hurricane in the Atlantic and eastern and central Pacific Oceans.
|Policemen ask people to move to cyclone shelters as they patrol a beach in Balasore district in Odisha, India, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. Tens of thousands of people were evacuated Tuesday in low-lying areas of two Indian states and moved to cyclone shelters to escape a powerful storm barreling toward the eastern coast. (AP Photo)|
Heavy rainfall could cause flash flooding in northeastern India, with a widespread 150 to 250 mm (6 to 10 inches) of rain and isolated totals over 250 mm likely. Some of the outer rain bands on the eastern side of the storm may lead to some flooding across portions of Bangladesh.
There will also be storm surge, with water inundations of 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) forecast along coastal sections of Odisha and Kolkata regions, according to the India Meteorological Department.
"The northern Bay of Bengal is extremely prone to storm surge flooding, in part due to its triangular shape at the head of the bay that funnels water into Bangladesh and northeastern India," CNN Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri said. "Of the world's top 35 deadliest cyclones, 26 have occurred here."
Cyclones and Covid-19 in India
Last year, Cyclone Amphan made landfall near Kolkata with winds at 165 kph (105 mph). Amphan was one of the most intense storms on record in the Indian Ocean. Although it weakened before making landfall, it still killed dozens across India and Bangladesh.
About 6,000 daily coronavirus cases were recorded in India around the time of Amphan's landfall in May 2020. The nation on Tuesday reported more than 196,000 new cases.
"This cyclone spells double trouble for millions of people in India as there is no respite from Covid-19. The country is being slammed by a second major cyclone in two weeks and hitting areas where Covid infections and deaths have been at record high," said Udaya Regmi, South Asia head of delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
About 90 cyclones with winds of at least Category 1 hurricane strength (about 120 kph) have hit northeastern India or western Bangladesh. Tropical cyclones can form year-round in the North Indian Ocean but are more common in the spring ahead of monsoon season.
"Over the past 20 years, there have been only three years when no cyclones were observed in the pre-monsoon season (2005, 2011 and 2012)," Javaheri said.
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