Digha (Inde) (AFP)
Thousands of people were homeless on Thursday after the latest cyclone to hit Covid-ravaged India left a trail of destruction, although timely evacuations limited the death toll to single figures.
Cyclones are a regular threat in the northern Indian Ocean, but many scientists say they are becoming more frequent and severe as climate change warms the sea temperature.
Barely a week after Cyclone Tauktae left at least 155 people dead in western India, Cyclone Yaas forced the evacuation of more than 1.5 million people in the eastern states of Bengal West and Odisha.
The storm struck Wednesday with torrential rains and howling winds gusting up to 155 kilometers (96 miles) per hour, the equivalent of a category two hurricane.
Waves the size of double-decker buses hit the shore and inundated towns and villages along the coastline, exacerbated by a higher than normal tide due to the full moon.
Prabir Maity, a resident of a village near the sea, told AFP: “I lost my house, everything”.
Two people died in West Bengal, two in Odisha and one in neighboring Bangladesh where the sea destroyed water defenses and flooded thousands of homes, officials said.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said more than 300,000 homes had been destroyed.
“The water level in the sea and rivers began to swell more than three to four meters (nine to 12 feet) above normal level and pierced embankments in 135 places,” Banerjee said.
“Thousands of people are still stranded. We have set up 14,000 cyclone centers to provide shelter to the homeless, ”she said.
The low lying areas of the state capital, Kolkata, were also inundated after the rise of the Hooghly River.
West Bengal Disaster Management Minister Javed Ahmed Khan told AFP rescue efforts were “complicated” by villagers refusing to leave their homes over fears over the coronavirus.
“Water is everywhere. The situation is very grim, ”Arjun Manna, a resident of Kakdwip in the Sunderbans Delta and in the nature reserve, told AFP.
“The devastation is enormous. Most hotels and markets are still flooded. The sea is still roaring, ”Diprodas Chatterjee of the Hotel Association of the seaside town of Digha told AFP.
“The employees who stayed behind tell a dark story,” he said.
Milan Mondal, a senior forestry official, told AFP that the high waves had also invaded a crocodile breeding center and a tiger reserve project area in the Sunderbans.
“At least five deer and one wild boar have been rescued by forestry officials,” he said. “We fear that many crocodiles have left the breeding center. “
In Odisha, hundreds of trees have been uprooted, some knocking down power lines, said relief official Pradeep Kumar Jena.
Some thatched-roofed houses were also damaged in the storm, but telecommunications networks were not affected, he added.
Yaas has since moved inland to Jharkhand state, easing to a deep low but bringing heavy rains.
strs-sam-stu / je
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