Powerful cyclone Yaas destroys homes in India, forces airport closure


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© Reuters. A general view shows flooding as Cyclone Yaas approaches Bhadrak, Odisha, India, May 26, 2021, in this still image taken from video obtained from social media. Mandatory credit AHMER JAWED/via REUTERS

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By Jatindra and Subrata NagChoudhury

BHUBANESWAR, India (Reuters) – A powerful cyclone destroyed tens of thousands of mud houses in eastern India on Wednesday, forcing the closure of the busiest regional airport in the city of Kolkata as it brought storm surges to coastal areas, the second such event within a week.

Cyclone Yaas was packing gusts of up to 140 kph (87 mph) as it hit land, authorities said, days after Tauktae tore up the western coast, triggering mass evacuations and piling pressure on authorities battling a deadly second wave of the coronavirus.

Authorities said more than a million people had been moved out of the storm’s path, while television broadcast images of rough seas, strong winds and rains lashing the state of Odisha, with shops and homes boarded up.

Weather officials said the “very severe cyclone” was expected to hit Odisha and adjacent West Bengal, with some effects felt even in Bangladesh, although the neighbouring country is not in the storm’s direct path.

West Bengal’s chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, told reporters that about 20,000 mud houses and temporary shelters had been damaged in the state.

“I have not seen anything like this before,” said another state minister, Bankim Hazra, after seawater gushed into the low-lying areas of Sagar island in the Bay of Bengal and the tourist town of Digha, where a police station was flooded.

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“Successive high tides battered the coastline,” he added. “It is inundation all around and villages are cut off.”

The state’s Kolkata airport was closed to flights until Wednesday evening.

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.

Police said they had rescued 10 people after their boat capsized near shore in Odisha’s Jagatsinghpur district on Tuesday. Naval base Chilka is monitoring ships in the area and is ready for rescue operations, the Indian Navy said.

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.

Weather officials in Bangladesh said the storm was likely to swamp low-lying areas of 14 coastal districts, bringing tides three feet to four feet (0.91 m to 1.22 m) higher than normal, and advised fishing boats and trawlers to stay in shelter.

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