Cyclone Yaas may have spared large parts of West Bengal, including Calcutta, from its devastation but the storm surges triggered by the cyclone have wreaked havoc in the coastal districts of East Midnapore and South 24-Parganas, state government officials said.
The storm surges were being considered a major threat for West Bengal because the cyclone coincided with the perigean spring tide – which happens when the moon is full and closest to earth on its orbit.
Large swathes of the Sunderbans region in South 24-Parganas district and places around the popular tourist destination of Digha in East Midnapore district were flooded on Wednesday due to the storm surges. Embankments along rivers were breached at numerous places, while government officials were concerned that the worst was yet to come.
In Digha, the water from the sea covered more than one kilometre into the town from the beach and local residents said they had never seen water coming as deep inside the town as this time.
The government’s preliminary estimates put the number of houses destroyed at 3 lakh. Reports of breaches of embankments came from nearly 150 places.
“The water level of the spring tide is expected to reach its peak on Thursday morning. So, more areas are expected to be inundated during the night and by the morning. We have asked the administration in the districts of East Midnapore, South 24-Parganas and North 24-Parganas to remain alert throughout the night,” said a senior official of the state government who did not want to be named.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who stayed up at the control room all night and throughout Wednesday, said that the combination of the cyclone and the spring tide caused extensive damages.
“The water level is expected to rise more than 5 metres above normal on Thursday morning. We have to stay alert for another 48 hours,” she said at the state secretariat on Wednesday. She said that the agriculture, animal husbandry, and horticulture sectors had been badly affected.
The administration has evacuated more than 1.5 million people.
Only one death has been reported in the state till Wednesday evening. However, the administration said that the person drowned after he moved out of the cyclone shelter to catch fish.
In Kolkata, some low-lying areas along the canals had been inundated and the government had asked the power supplying agency to ensure snapping power supply to those areas until the waterlogging had been cleared.
The chief minister said the Kalighat area, where she lives, had also gone underwaters and that she had switched off the power supply at her own residence as well.
Officials at the state secretariat said the chief minister wanted to pay visits to the affected areas later at the end of this week, after getting detailed reports from the concerned districts over the next two days.
She is scheduled to take a chopper for an aerial survey of the Sunderbans region in North 24-Parganas and South 24-Parganas and Digha. She is slated to hold meetings with the local administration at all three places to discuss compensation, relief, rehabilitation and rebuilding.