New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday held a meeting to review the preparedness for Cyclone Yaas, which will make landfall on India's eastern coast on May 26. The cyclone is expected to hit the land between Sundarbans in West Bengal and north Odisha.
The Prime Minister held the meeting with senior government officials and representatives from National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), secretaries from ministries of telecom, power, civil aviation and earth sciences.
Union home minister Amit Shah was also present in the virtual meeting.
With Odisha and West Bengal bracing for cyclonic storm Yaas, the Indian Army on Saturday informed that it has arranged columns and engineer task forces are on standby for rescue and relief operations.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik had earlier reviewed the preparedness for the cyclonic storm in high-level meetings with officials in their respective states on Saturday.
Mayurbhanj, Bhadrak and Balasore districts are likely to be worst affected by the cyclonic storm, Umashankar Das, Deputy Director of India Meteorological Department (IMD) in Bhubaneswar said on Sunday.
"We are expecting that the well-marked low-pressure area over the east-central Bay of Bengal will concentrate into a depression during next 12 hours and by tomorrow (May 24), it is going to be a cyclonic storm and will continue to move in the north north-westward direction and on May 26 it will reach Odisha, West Bengal, and Bangladesh coast," Das was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.
The head of Regional Meteorological Centre (RMC) in Kolkata Dr Sanjib Bandyopadhyay had earlier advised the fishermen of West Bengal not to venture into the sea from May 23 evening, and advised those who are in the deep sea to return to the coast by May 23 morning, in view of Cyclone Yaas.
Yaas will intensify as it heads towards northwards, and will make the landfall as very severe cyclonic storm, the IMD has said.
“Probability is highest that Yaas will hit the West Bengal coast after intensifying into a very severe cyclone. As of now it is unlikely to match the intensity of Amphan,” said GK Das, director of the IMD’s regional office in Kolkata.
On Saturday, the Indian Navy put on standby four warships and a number of aircraft to deal with the possible impact of Cyclone Yaas that is brewing in the Bay of Bengal.
Eight flood relief teams and four diving teams have positioned at Odisha and West Bengal to augment the existing resources, the Indian Navy said.
In a statement, the Indian Navy said, "Naval aircraft are kept ready at naval air stations INS Dega at Visakhapatnam and INS Rajali near Chennai to undertake aerial survey of the affected areas, casualty evacuation, and airdrop of relief material as required.”
On May 25, the wind speed along the West Bengal coastline, while the cyclone is still at sea, would be around 50-60 km per hours gusting up to 70 km per hour. In the early hours of May 26, the wind speed would be around 60–70 km per hour and gusting up to 80 km per hour.
“In the forenoon of May 26 the wind speed will reach around 100 km per hour. In the evening as the cyclone approaches, the wind speed would pick up further and may remain around 120 km per hour,” said Das.
Amphan had hit the Sunderbans in south Bengal on May 20 last year with a wind speed of 155–165 km per hour and gusting up to 185 km per hour. It had killed 98 people while pummelling through six districts.
“It had intensified into a Super Cyclone over the sea around May 18, but had weakened into a very severe cyclone before hitting the Bengal coast on May 20,” said a senior official.
But it is not Cyclone Yaas alone that is worrying experts and officials. The spring tide, which coincides with the full moon, is also on May 26.
“During the spring tide the water level in the sea and estuaries remains higher than normal and the tides are much higher. If the timing coincides with Cyclone Yaas, the storm surge would be much higher and devastating. Embankments in the Sunderbans may breach and large areas may get flooded. The devastation would be more if the cyclone strikes in an east to west direction as was seen during Cyclone Aila in May 2009,” said Tuhin Ghosh, director of the School of Oceanographic Studies at Jadavpur University.
District administrations particularly in the coastal block and Sunderban islands have already started strengthening the embankments that form the only barricades between the rivers and villages.
“We have already started strengthening the embankments and increasing their height so that the water cannot enter the villages over the top of the embankments,” said a senior official of North 24 Parganas, associated with disaster management.
The Covid-19 pandemic has added to the worries of the administration. Even though Cyclone Amphan had also hit when Covid-19 was taking its toll, this time the situation is more alarming.
On May 20, 2020 when Amphan had made landfall, West Bengal had registered 142 new Covid-19 cases. On May 20 this year the state recorded 19,091 cases.
“Last year on May 20, North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas and East Midnapore, the three coastal districts which always bear the first brunt of cyclones, had only 234, 66 and 21 active cases respectively. Now, the same districts have 27,268, 8,290 and 5,498 active cases respectively,” said a health department official.
District officials said that the number of cyclone and relief shelters, where evacuated people would be kept, was being increased by roping in school and college buildings so that social distancing could be maintained.
“Safe homes were being set up in such buildings so that anyone showing symptoms could be isolated after a Rapid Antigen Test. Ambulances were being kept ready and oxygen was being stored in district hospitals and rural health centres. Teams from the electric supply department were also being kept on standby so that in case of power cuts generators could be used,” said a BDO of South 24 Parganas.
In the villages of coastal districts, district officials have already started making announcements on loudspeakers about the approaching cyclonic storm and the evacuation process that could be started on May 25. Fishermen were being asked not to venture out into the sea.
In Kolkata too, the city police and city’s civic body were gearing up for the storm. Separate teams were being formed for each area, generators, pumps and heavy machines to remove uprooted trees were being kept on standby. Leave of all officials have been cancelled and control rooms have been set up ahead of the approaching cyclone.
“We are monitoring the cyclone and by tomorrow the situation about its trajectory would become clearer,” said a meteorological department official in Kolkata.
Meanwhile, the number of fatalities due to Cyclone Tauktae jumped to 90 and has left many houses destroyed in various states -- Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat, among others -- after it swept from the Arabian Sea.