India starts evacuations ahead of cyclone

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Indian authorities have begun evacuating thousands of people from coastal areas in two states as a powerful cyclone bears down on the country's east coast, complicating efforts to control the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cyclone Yaas, the second storm to hit the country in a week, is set to turn into a "very severe cyclonic storm" with wind speeds of up to 177km/h, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) said.

The storm, brewing in the Bay of Bengal, will likely come ashore near the border between Odisha and West Bengal states early on Wednesday, accompanied by storm surge of around four metres that could reach up to 7km inland, according to the IMD.

"Our target is to ensure that not a single life is lost," said Bankim Hazra, a minister in West Bengal state, where more than 1500 people have already been evacuated from a low-lying island.

In Odisha, state authorities were aiming to complete all evacuations by Tuesday afternoon, including moving around 6500 pregnant women into hospitals, senior official Pradeep Jena said.

The cyclone is likely to compound problems for state authorities already dealing with a spike in COVID-19 infections that has put health infrastructure under severe strain.

Hospitals had been provided with power back-up, along with buffer stocks of oxygen and medicines, said Rajendra Singh, a member of the National Disaster Management Authority.

The National Disaster Response Force has already deployed nearly 100 teams and armed forces have been asked to remain on stand-by to assist with rescue and relief operations, Singh said.

Odisha and West Bengal have suspended fishing and marine work till Wednesday, while ports on the east coast have also restricted activities..

Last week, Cyclone Tauktae, the most powerful cyclone to hit India's west cost in more than two decades, barrelled inland killing more than 150 people and leaving a trail of destruction.