At least three people died and tens of thousands were made homeless when a powerful cyclone swept into eastern India from the Bay of Bengal on Wednesday, inundating hundreds of low-lying villages, officials said.
Cyclone Yaas was packing gusts of up to 140 kilometers per hour (87 mph), the equivalent of a Category 1 Atlantic hurricane, as it made landfall.
In West Bengal, an eastern state that borders Bangladesh, authorities said around 1,100 villages had been flooded by storm surges, leaving at least 50,000 homeless. “But the figure may rise as reports are yet to reach us from interior areas,” state minister Bankim Hazra told Reuters.
Photos from the state show roads turned into rivers, with cars toppled and half-submerged. People wade through knee-high water to reach cyclone shelters; huts and small houses lie crumpled in piles of debris.
Across the state, rising waters breached river embankments in more than 100 locations, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee told reporters. It killed at least three people, affected more than 10 million residents in the state, and damaged more than 300,000 houses, she said on Wednesday.
The West Bengal government has established 14,000 relief camps to house residents who are in the path of the cyclone.
In neighboring Odisha, around 120 villages had been swamped by heavy rain and sea water whipped up by the cyclone but people in most areas had already been moved to storm shelters, the state’s top bureaucrat, Suresh Mahapatra, told Reuters.
In all, authorities had evacuated more than a million people before Cyclone Yaas made landfall.
The National Disaster Response Force, along with the Indian military, have been deployed to carry out rescue and relief operations along the coast.
Cyclones in the Bay of Bengal are common at this time of year and often roar ashore, bringing death and destruction to the coastal areas of both India and neighboring Bangladesh.
The devastating wave of virus infections complicated storm preparations. Odisha officials said they had suspended testing, vaccination and a door-to-door health survey in the three districts in the storm’s path.
But Mahapatra said many doctors and hospital staff in the state had camped inside their facilities as the storm bore down, and key services were continuing with minimal disruption.
“All hospitals, including Covid hospitals, are running smoothly,” he said.
Weather officials in Bangladesh said the storm was likely to swamp low-lying areas of 14 coastal districts, bringing tides 3 to 4 feet (0.9 to 1.2 meters) higher than normal. They advised fishing boats and trawlers to stay in shelter.