Indian authorities began evacuating thousands of people from coastal areas in two states on Monday as a powerful cyclone bore down on the country's east coast, complicating efforts to control the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cyclone Yaas, the second storm to hit the country in a week, is set to turn into a "very severe cyclonic storm" with wind speeds of up to 110 miles per hour (177 kph), the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) said.
The storm, brewing in the Bay of Bengal, will likely come ashore near the border between Odisha and West Bengal states early on Wednesday, accompanied by storm surge of around four metres (13 ft) that could reach up to 7 km (4 miles) inland, according to the IMD.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said on Monday that the West Bengal government has made all necessary arrangements in dealing with the aftermath of cyclone Yaas, which might affect 20 districts of the state.
Addressing a press conference, Banerjee said the state is targeting to shift at least 10 lakh people to safer places in a bid to avoid any loss of life.''Cyclone Yaas's impact is going to be much more than Amphan, according to the information we have received so far.
This is going to affect at least 20 districts in West Bengal.
The districts of Kolkata, North and South 24 Parganas and Purba Medinipur will be severely affected,'' she said.
The districts of Howrah, Hooghly, Bankura, Birbhum, Nadia, Paschim and Purba Bardhaman, Paschim Medinipur, Murshidabad, Jhargram, Purulia would also be affected by the cyclone, she said.
"Our target is to ensure that not a single life is lost," said Bankim Hazra, a minister in West Bengal state, where more than 1,500 people have already been evacuated from a low-lying island.
The calamity will continue for 72 hours, she said.
''The state government has banned all forms of tourism in the coastal areas as well as fishing activities in the sea,'' the chief minister said.
''District administrations and police have been asked to deal with violations strictly to prevent any loss of life,'' she said.
In Odisha, state authorities were aiming to complete all evacuations by Tuesday afternoon, including moving around 6,500 pregnant women into hospitals, senior official Pradeep Jena said.
The cyclone is likely to compound problems for state authorities already dealing with a spike in COVID-19 infections that has put health infrastructure under severe strain.
Hospitals had been provided with power back-up, along with buffer stocks of oxygen and medicines, said Rajendra Singh, a member of the National Disaster Management Authority.
The National Disaster Response Force has already deployed nearly 100 teams and armed forces have been asked to remain on stand-by to assist with rescue and relief operations, Singh said.
Odisha and West Bengal have suspended fishing and marine work till Wednesday, while ports on the east coast have also restricted activities. read more .
Last week, Cyclone Tauktae, the most powerful cyclone to hit India's west cost in more than two decades, barrelled inland killing more than 150 people and leaving a trail of destruction.
In Malda, Uttar and Dakshin Dinajpur, Darjeeling and Kalimpong there is a forecast of rain, Banerjee added.
Meanwhile,the Airports Authority of India (AAI) on Monday said flight operations at Bhubaneswar, Kolkata, Jharsuguda and Durgapur airports are likely to be hit due to cyclone Yaas, while instructing other airports in the eastern region to be on alert in view of a possibility of change in path of cyclonic winds.
It also said that civil aviation authorities in the country are taking all precautions and keeping a close tab on the movement of cyclone, which is approaching the eastern coast of the country.
''While flight operations at Bhubaneswar, Kolkata, Jharsuguda and Durgapur airports are likely to be impacted by the cyclone; Ranchi, Patna, Raipur, Jamshedpur, Bagdogra, Cooch Behar, Vizag and Rajahmundry airports have been instructed to be on alert in case the cyclonic winds change path,'' the AAI said in a release.