A general view shows flooding as Cyclone Yaas approaches Bhadrak, Odisha, India, on May 26 2021. Picture: AHMER JAWED VIA REUTERS
A general view shows flooding as Cyclone Yaas approaches Bhadrak, Odisha, India, on May 26 2021. Picture: AHMER JAWED VIA REUTERS

New Delhi — India has evacuated almost 2-million people from the east coast to safer places as a powerful cyclone hit the nation at a time when authorities are also battling the world’s worst outbreak of Covid-19.

The eastern state of West Bengal has shifted about 1.1-million people to various relief centres, while neighbouring Odisha has so far moved more than 500,000. Local authorities are asking people to maintain social-distancing at cyclone shelters to check the spread of the coronavirus.

The storm, the second one to batter India in 10 days, poses several challenges for already stressed authorities in the country, which is battling a second wave of the coronavirus. The infections have strained India’s health system and overwhelmed crematoriums and hospitals. They have also spread to rural areas, where about 70% of the nation’s 1.3-billion people live.

The India Meteorological Department said the landfall process of Cyclone Yaas has started in Odisha and wind speeds may rise as high as 155 km/h. Sea levels may increase 3m above regular tides and inundate low-lying areas, it said in a statement.

The latest storm follows a severe cyclone that hit the west coast last week — the worst in more than two decades in the western state of Gujarat — killing dozens after a barge sank offshore. The eastern region was hit by a cyclone, equivalent to a category 3 hurricane, in May 2020, while another one in 2019 prompted authorities to evacuate millions of people.

Federal home minister Amit Shah asked the state governments to ensure adequate power backup for hospitals, laboratories, vaccine cold stores and other medical facilities, the ministry said in a statement.

Ports, refineries and plants are on alert. Indian Oil, the biggest refiner, has stopped unloading crude oil at Paradip in Odisha, according to a spokesperson.

Ongoing construction activities by oil and gas companies in the region have been temporarily suspended, according to Indian Oil. All ships carrying crude oil and other related products have been asked to keep a safe distance from the cyclone’s path, it said in a statement, adding that efforts are under way to ensure the smooth supply of liquid medical oxygen from the eastern parts to the rest of the country.

Authorities are cautious now after a fatal accident last week. The Indian Navy recovered 70 bodies after a barge and a tug boat, working for state-run Oil and Natural Gas, sank following Cyclone Tauktae that hit the west coast on May 17. The navy rescued 188 people, but some are still missing.

More than 20 relief columns of the Indian Army have been deployed and another nine are on standby. Heavy and medium army transport aircraft have flown in more than 200 personnel, as well as equipment, of the National Disaster Response Force.

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on Bloomberg.com

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