Cyclone 'Yaas' whiplashes eastern coast, over 3 lakh houses

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damaged, four dead (Eds: Changing Intro, adding fresh matter throughout) Balasore/Digha/Kolkata/Bhubaneshwar/Ranchi, May 26 (PTI) Cyclone Yaas, packing winds gusting to 145 kmph whiplashed parts of Indias eastern coast on Wednesday, killing at least four people and leaving behind a trail of damaged homes and flooded farmland, forcing more than 21 lakh people to be evacuated to safe shelters in the states of West Bengal, Odisha and Jharkhand.

Thick sheets of rain blurred the vast coastline, as the cyclone made landfall around 9 am near Dhamra port in Odisha, with surging waters sweeping beached fishing boats inland and swamping the mud-and-thatch houses and farmlands in low-lying areas.

Yaas is the second cyclonic storm to hit India within a week after Tauktae tore into its western coast, causing death and destruction.

The storm, which had weakened during the afternoon, had left the coastal states on edge, with Bengal government claiming that at least one crore people have been affected by the calamity thus far, as it hollered on its destructive path towards Jharkhand.

However, the two state capitals Kolkata and Bhubaneshwar were saved from the wrath of the cyclonic storm, though the two cities witnessed heavy rains and high winds.

Three of the four lives claimed by Yaas, were from Odisha which bore the brunt of natures fury, while one was from West Bengal.

People in 128 villages in Balasore and Bhadrak district remained marooned as gushing seawater cut off road links to them. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik announced 7 days relief for these villages.

Patnaik also directed officials to repair all roads within 24 hours. As many as 605 roads have been damaged of which 495 have been repaired in Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara, Jajpur, Balasore, Bdahrak districts. As the cyclone swirls in Mayurbhanj district, action will be taken on Thursday.

At least one crore people were affected and three lakh houses damaged in West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said on Wednesday.

Seawater inundated several villages in Bahanaga and Remuna blocks in the Balasore district, and Dhamra and Basudevpur in the Bhadrak district, Odisha's Special Relief Commissioner PK Jena said.

The administration, with the help of the locals, is taking measures to drain out the saline water from the villages, Jena explained.

The scenic town of Digha in East Midnapore, which shares border with Balasore district of Odisha, lay swamped, with the Army called in to help rescue operations. Several vehicles including an earthmover were overturned while boats were seen catapulted from where they were beached over walls and onto streets.

Parts of the nearby tourist towns of Mandarmani, Tajpur and Shankarpur were also inundated, with seawaters entering the hotels and residential areas, besides causing damage to kutcha shops and houses.

In certain areas, the waves were seen surging as high as the coconut trees that line the popular beaches.

A school, situated along the coast in Shankarpur, was washed away by the high and mighty sea waves.

Heavy rainfall in the Similipal National Park in Mayurbhanj district of Odisha sparked fears of a flash flood in the Budhabalang river. By afternoon, the water level in the river stood at 21 metre against the danger level of 27 metre, the special relief commissioner said.

Local sources said two persons were killed - one each in Keonjhar and Balasore -- after trees fell on them, but there was no official confirmation yet.

Another elderly woman in Mayurbhanj reportedly died after her house collapsed.

Restoration work for power lines have started in several places of Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara and Jajpur districts after cables snapped, Jena said, adding that the storm will likely move to Jharkhand by midnight.

Odisha has shifted 6.5 lakh people to safer places, and West Bengal 15 lakh, ahead of the cyclone, amid concerns over spread of COVID-19 infection at the temporary shelters, given the fact that the country is battling the raging second wave of the pandemic.

Odisha chief minister Patnaik ordered health screening of all the 6.5 lakh people taken to cyclone shelter, including COVID tests if required. Officials said similar health screening was also planned for Bengals shelters too.

West Bengal chief minister Banerjee said relief materials worth Rs 10 crore have been to the affected areas.

The Army has deployed 17 columns in West Bengal to assist the administration, a defence official said.

Rescue operation by the Army was also underway at Orphuli in the Howrah district, he said.

In South 24 Parganas, thousands of villagers were displaced in Kakdwip, Fraserganj, Gosaba and the Sunderbans region, as homes were extensively damaged by surging water and gale winds, officials said.

Several rivers were in spate owing to the phenomenal rise in water level -- caused by the dual effect of storm surge and the astronomical tide due to the full moon.

Flooding was also reported from Sagar island at the confluence of Hooghly and Bay of Bengal.

The compound of much-revered Kapil Muni Temple in Sagar Islands lay submerged, as tidal waves, as tall as five feet, crashed over the boardwalks.

Some fishing boats and equipment were destroyed at harbours in Kakdwip, leaving the fishermen devoid of their livelihood.

'We will starve unless the government provides us with assistance,' said a hapless villager at Kakdwip as his boat lay ravaged in front of him.

The Kolkata Port was on tenterhooks as Hooghly swelled to eight metres, with seawater surging past the heights of the external lock gate of the Haldia Dock System, an official said.

Army, National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), State Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and state police and civil defence volunteers were working round-the-clock to move people to safety, officials said.

Water-logging was also reported from certain low-lying areas of Kolkata with the authorities facing a tough time clearing the area due to high tide in Hooghly, they said.

The weather office has predicted extremely heavy rainfall in East and West Midnapore districts and heavy to very heavy rainfall in Jhargram, Bankura, South 24 Parganas districts over the next 24 hours.

Heavy rain will occur at isolated places in Purulia, Nadia, Murshidabad, Purba Bardhaman, Howrah, Hooghly, Kolkata, North 24 Parganas, Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts owing to After- effects of 'Yaas', the weather office said.

In Odisha, a red warning for heavy to very heavy rainfall was issued in nine districts.

'Heavy to very heavy rainfall at a few places with isolated extremely heavy fall very likely to occur over the districts of Balasore, Bhadrak, Jajpur, Kendrapada, Jagatsinghpur, Cuttack, Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar and Dhenkanal,' the weather office said.

Jharkhand evacuated over 10,000 people to safer zones while operation is still on amid forecast that cyclone 'Yaas' would be hitting the state by midnight, officials said Wednesday.

The state has imposed complete lockdown in some parts to prevent people from venturing out as the severe cyclonic storm is expected to batter the state.

Operations are being executed on a war-footing in vulnerable areas in East and West Singhbhum, besides some other districts which are expected to be hit by the cyclonic storm Yaas, Disaster Management Secretary Amitabh Kaushal told PTI.

'We are witnessing heavy rainfall and there has been damage to the power transmission network besides trees have been uprooted,' East Singhbhum Deputy Commissioner Suraj Kumar said.


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