Cyclone Yaas leaves thousands homeless in India and Bangladesh

At least nine people killed as tropical storm sweeps away thousands of homes

Thousands of people were left homeless on Thursday after a cyclone battered Covid-ravaged India and neighbouring Bangladesh, killing nine people, including four children.

While cyclones are a regular menace in the northern Indian Ocean, scientists say they are becoming more frequent and severe as climate change raises sea temperatures.

Barely a week after Cyclone Tauktae claimed at least 155 lives in western India, Cyclone Yaas forced the evacuation of more than 1.5 million people in the eastern states of West Bengal and Odisha.

The storm hit on Wednesday with torrential rain and howling winds gusting up to 155 kilometres an hour, equivalent to a Category Two hurricane.

Waves the size of double-decker buses pounded the shore and swamped towns and villages along the coast, exacerbated by a higher-than-normal tide because of a full moon.

"I have lost my home, everything," said Prabir Maity, a resident of a village close to the sea.

Two people died in West Bengal, two in Odisha and five in neighbouring Bangladesh, officials said.

In southern areas of Bangladesh, although not in Yaas's direct path, the sea smashed through water defences and inundated thousands of homes, officials said.

In India, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said more than 300,000 homes were destroyed.

"The water level in the sea and rivers started to swell three to four metres above the normal level and breached embankments in 135 places," Ms Banerjee said. "Thousands of people are still marooned. We have set up 14,000 cyclone centres to provide shelter to the homeless."

Low-lying areas of Kolkata, the state capital, were also flooded after the Hooghly river rose.

West Bengal Disaster Management Minister Javed Ahmed Khan said rescue efforts were being complicated by villagers refusing to leave their homes because of fears about coronavirus.

"Water is everywhere. The situation is very grim," Arjun Manna, a resident of Kakdwip in the Sunderbans delta and nature reserve area, told AFP.

"The devastation is huge. Most hotels and markets are still inundated. The sea is still roaring," said Diprodas Chatterjee from the Hoteliers' Association in the seaside town of Digha.

"Employees who stayed back are telling a grim story," he said.

Milan Mondal, a senior forest official, said the high waves had swamped a crocodile breeding centre and tiger reserve project area in the Sunderbans.

"At least five deer and a wild boar were rescued by forest officials," he said. "We are afraid that many crocodiles have left the breeding centre."

In Odisha, hundreds of trees were uprooted, some bringing down power lines, relief official Pradeep Kumar Jena said.

Some thatched homes were damaged, but telecommunication networks were not affected, he said.

Yaas has since moved inland towards the state of Jharkhand, easing to a deep depression but bringing heavy rains.

Farther north, Nepal was bracing for floods in its plains and landslides in the hills because heavy rains have lashed the country since Wednesday and are forecast to last until Saturday.

People living on riverbanks must be alert and climbers should return from the mountains, Nepal's National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority said.

Waves lash over onto a damaged shoreline after Cyclone Yaas hit India's eastern coast in the Bay of Bengal, at a beach in Shankarpur, some 180 km from Kolkata on May 27, 2021. / AFP / Dibyangshu SARKAR