Natural Disasters

Cyclone Yaas: Landfall in Odisha but flood scares in Bengal

Cyclone Yaas’ landfall will overlap with the high tide and could inundate inland areas

By Jayanta Basu
Published: Tuesday 25 May 2021
Cyclone Yaas May 25 evening. Image: Earth NullSchool
Cyclone Yaas May 25 evening. Image: Earth NullSchool Cyclone Yaas May 25 evening. Image: Earth NullSchool

Cyclone Yaas might be making landfall in Odisha May 26, 2021, but the very severe cyclonic storm has caused jitters in West Bengal, especially its two coastal districts one of which is home to several industries.

There are concerns about whether the ageing industries in the port of Haldia would be able to bear the strong winds of Yaas.

The cyclone’s landfall also coincides with the start of the high tide, increasing the possibilities of inundation far inland, leading to crop losses for farmers.

“We can now confirm that the cyclone would continue to move north-north west towards Jharkhand after making landfall at about 40 kilometres south of Balasore; but Bengal districts like Purba Medinipur and South 24 Paraganas would be significantly affected,” Mrinttunjoy Mahapatra, director-general of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) told this reporter May 25.

The West Bengal government had already evacuated about 300,000 people from vulnerable areas including around 170,000 million from the Sundarbans, P Ulganathan, district magistrate of South 24 Paraganas, said.

Purba Medinipur

The IMD issued a ‘Red Warning’ for Purba Medinipur district in its bulletin at 5.30 pm May 25. The IMD report issued by GK Das, head of the Regional Meteorological Centre, Kolkata, said:

Extremely heavy rainfall at isolated places over East & West Medinipur districts … squally wind speed becoming 90 – 120 kmph gusting to 145 kmph over East Medinipur district from early hours of 26 (May)...

The West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB) has directed several industries in the Haldia region to keep vigil so that no chemical spillage or disaster happens during the cyclone.

“We have already issued a standard operating protocol to 23 industries located mainly around Haldia, taking into cognizance the threat of a high intensity storm in the zone,” WBPCB chairman Kalyan Rudra told this reporter May 25.

Subrata Ghosh, the board’s member secretary, wrote in an order issued May 24:

You are directed to take the necessary steps and precautionary measures in order to prevent any disaster and casualties arising out of handling and storing of hazardous and toxic chemicals in your plant due to this cyclonic storm.

WBPCB sources said most industries in Haldia had been designed to counter storms with speeds above 200 km per hour, but admitted that the strength might have reduced over time.

“It is a fact that many of the industries in Haldia are old and their chimneys, pipelines, etc have become vulnerable,” admitted a senior official of a unit in Haldia, on the condition of anonymity.

The official however claimed that many industries had updated and modernised their key operational components.

Storm surges  

A significant portion of both, Purba Medinipur and South 24 Paraganas are expected to be flooded during and also immediately after Yaas makes landfall. There could be 20-28 feet-high water surges, combining the impacts of the cyclone and high tide.

“Tidal waves of height 2-4 metres above astronomical tides are likely to inundate low lying coastal areas of Purba Medinipur district around the time of landfall,” the IMD report warned.   

South 24 Parganas could expect “tidal waves of height 1-2 metres above astronomical tides around the time of landfall,” the report added.

According to tide table accessed by this reporter, the high tide in the area will start from 1.23 pm, while the landfall is likely to start “during noon”.

Mahapatra said:

As of now, the landfall and high tide are likely to overlap to a certain extent as the process of landfall may start at around mid-noon but will continue for few hours.

“Today, the tide was almost at the brim. If it rises further with the cyclone, many areas will be flooded on May 26,” Samir Jana, member of legislative assembly (MLA) from Pathrpratima, one of the most vulnerable areas of West Bengal, said.

Some parts of the state’s coast were already flooded May 25.

According to IMD, the cyclone’s impact, though less compared to Amphan, will still be formidable as the storm surge may carry the saline water inland up to 3 kilometres.

“The water has started to ingress. There is no paddy but many of us have vegetables in our fields that may get affected,” Adalat Khan, a resident of Mousuni island, located at the western edge of the Sundarbans, said.      

Preparations for Yaas

“During Cyclone Amphan, we faced problems in communication both during and post the disaster. This time, we have given satellite phones to all district magistrates,” Javed Ahmed Khan, West Bengal’s disaster management minister told this reporter.   

Khan said his department was coordinating with departments like fire, police, etc for combating the cyclone in all districts expected to be affected by Yaas.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee will be monitoring the storm from a control room in the state secretariat at Nabanna from the night of May 25. Banerjee said a number of districts in the state could face flooding.

She added 54,000 officers and relief workers, 200,000 million police and Home Guard personnel, along with the National Disaster Response Force, will be deployed to combat the storm.

“In Kolkata decentralised monitoring has been planned, taking a cue from last year, when we faced difficulties in reaching different areas due to trees blocking thoroughfares,” Debasish Kumar, a member of the board of administrators in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) and a MLA of Kolkata, said.

According to Kumar, KMC has deployed 2,500 workers across 144 KMC wards to start restoration work once the cyclone subsides.

“We have kept generators, tree-cutting apparatus, pumps for clearing the water logging. We are also coordinating with the Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation so that the snapped electric lines can be restored quickly,” he said.

KMC has also organised various disaster shelters across the city to house slum dwellers during the cyclone.

Yaas is likely to have a wind speed of 65-75 km per hour in Kolkata, with a gusting of 85 km. Districts adjoining Kolkata may have marginally less strong winds.

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