By Subrata Nagchoudhury and Jatindra Dash
BHUBANESWAR, India (Reuters) – 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.
In all, the state had already moved around 900,000 people in several coastal districts to storm shelters, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee told reporters.
But neighboring Odisha state appeared likely to face the brunt of Cyclone Yaas – the second cyclone to hit the country in a week – where officials also began moving people in cars and boats into storm shelters and other sturdy structures.
Pregnant women and children were sent to government hospitals, as fishermen shifted boats to safety inland.
In Odisha’s Balasore district, close to where the cyclone is expected to make landfall, volunteers broadcast alerts over megaphones, urging people to move.
“Evacuation is always a challenge. In general, there is a reluctance … this time we have COVID,” said Vishal Kumar Dev, an official overseeing relief efforts in Balasore.
“Often people say, ‘We’ll go only when the rain increases.’ We’re convincing them.”
Cyclones in the Bay of Bengal are common at this time of year, and often roar ashore, causing deaths and destruction in coastal areas of both India and Bangladesh.
Last week, Cyclone Tauktae – the most powerful cyclone to hit India’s west cost in more than two decades – killed more than 150 people.
A devastating second wave of coronavirus infections complicated storm preparations. Officials in Odisha said they were conducting antigen tests and temperature checks, and isolating people with COVID-19 symptoms.
(Reporting by Jatindra Das in BHUBANESWAR and Subrata Nagachoudhury in KOLKATA; Writing by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Robert Birsel and Howard Goller)