A tornado ripped through eastern India on Tuesday, killing at least two people and damaging dozens of homes as a powerful cyclone neared the coast, officials said, while authorities tried to move over a million people to safety from low-lying areas.
Cyclone Yaas was powering across the Bay of Bengal and would batter the eastern states of Odisha and West Bengal, and also Bangladesh, on Wednesday, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said.
"It is likely to cause large-scale damage," IMD chief Mrutyunjay Mohapatra told Reuters by telephone.
A freak tornado that some experts said was linked to the incoming storm snapped electricity lines, which electrocuted two people, and damaged around 45 houses in West Bengal's Hooghly district, a government official said.
Cyclone Yaas intensified into a very severe cyclonic storm on Tuesday evening, Mohapatra said, even as the states of West Bengal, Odisha and Jharkhand aggressively evacuated over 12 lakh people to storm shelters by late evening.
The IMD also issued a red-coded warning alert to the Odisha and West Bengal coasts.
''The severe cyclonic storm 'Yaas' (pronounced as 'Yass') over northwest and Bay of Bengal intensified into a very severe cyclonic storm,'' Mohapatra said.
`Yaas', which was positioned 160 km south-southeast of Paradip in Odisha and 240 km south-southeast of Digha in West Bengal over north-west and adjoining west-central Bay of Bengal on Tuesday evening, is likely to gain a maximum speed of 155 kmph to 165 kmph gusting to 185 kmph during landfall, the Met department said.
''It is very likely to cross north Odisha-West Bengal coasts between Paradip and Sagar Islands close to north of Dhamra and south of Balasore, in the morning hours of Wednesday, the 26th May as a Very Severe Cyclonic Storm,'' the Cyclone Warning Division of the IMD added.
Flight operations at the Kolkatas NSCBI airport here will be suspended from 8.30 am to 7.45 pm owing to the weather warning on Wednesday, the Airports Authority of India said.
Bhubaneshwars Biju Patnaik International airport too will remain shut from 11 pm Tuesday till 5 am on Thursday. The South Eastern Railways too has cancelled several trains, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said that her administration has evacuated over nine lakh people from coastal districts to safe shelters.
The Odisha government, on the other hand, said it has moved over 3 lakh people from vulnerable coastal areas to safety.
Banerjee said over 74,000 officers and workers and over 2 lakh policemen and civic volunteers have been deployed to mitigate the natural calamity in West Bengal.
She said that National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) personnel too have been deployed.
''We have evacuated at least 9 lakh people to relief and flood centres. There are 4,000 flood centres in the state.
''We are monitoring the situation 24/7. Control rooms have been set up at every block to monitor the situation, apart from the one at state secretariat Nabanna,'' she said.
Banerjee said adequate arrangements have been made for Kolkata.
Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) Board of Administrators' Chairman Firhad Hakim, who is under house arrest in the Narada case, is monitoring the situation from home, she said.
The Eastern Command of the Indian Army, on requisition, is working in coordination with the West Bengal government, and has deployed several columns for relief and rescue operations, a Defence official said.
''A total of 17 cyclone relief columns, comprising specialised army personnel with associated equipment and inflatable boats, have been deployed to the state,'' he said.
The Army columns have been deployed at Purulia, Jhargram, Birbhum, Bard