By Subrata Nag Choudhury and Jatindra Dash
KOLKATA, India (Reuters) -A powerful cyclone swept into eastern India from the Bay of Bengal on Wednesday, inundating hundreds of low-lying villages, making more than 50,000 people homeless and killing at least one person, officials said.
Cyclone Yaas was packing gusts of up to 140 kph (87 mph) as it made landfall, days after another storm tore up the western coast, triggering mass evacuations and piling pressure on authorities battling a deadly second wave of the coronavirus.
In West Bengal, an eastern state that borders Bangladesh, authorities said that 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.
Across the state, rising waters breached river embankments in more than 100 locations, with the storm damaging 20,000 traditional mud homes and killing at least one person after a house collapsed, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee told reporters.
In neighbouring 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.
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 neighbouring 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 three to four feet (0.91-1.22 meters) higher than normal. They advised fishing boats and trawlers to stay in shelter.
(Additional reporting by Ruma Paul in Dhaka; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani and Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Mark Heinrich and Nick Macfie)