May 27 (UPI) -- Cyclone Yaas, packing winds of around 80-90 mph and the equivalent to a strong Category 1 hurricane in the Atlantic and East Pacific basins, crashed onshore over northeastern India Wednesday morning, spreading torrential rainfall, strong winds and significant storm surge made worse by the shape of the coastline in the region. All of this unfolded as the area of the country faces a COVID-19 crisis amid a second wave of cases and fatalities.
The cyclone made landfall near Nidhipada in the Balasore district of Odisha, about 150 miles southwest of Kolkata, at around 11 a.m. Wednesday as a very severe cyclonic storm. Due to the combination of heavy rain, flooding, strong winds and storm surge, Yaas was rated a 4 on the AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale for Tropical Cyclones by AccuWeather forecasters as it crashed onshore.
By Thursday afternoon, Yaas was downgraded to a depression as the system rapidly lost wind intensity as it interacted with land.
During a press briefing Wednesday evening, the Odisha Special Relief Commissioner Pradeep Kumar Jena announced that the death toll rose to two.
Waves fueled by Cyclone Yaas crashed the shores of Digha, West Bengal, Tuesday night, flooding portions of the boardwalk before the eye of the storm reached the shore.
The Indian Army rescued more than 500 people from East Mednapore as floodwaters continued to rise with high tide and daylight faded, according to the Public Relations Office for Defense in Kolkata.
In Nayachara, West Bengal, the Indian Army recused around 100 people after they became stranded by floodwaters.
By Friday, Yaas is expected to transition into a tropical rainstorm before being ripped apart by the Himalayan Mountains in Nepal over the weekend.
Despite the loss in wind intensity, Yaas can still bring widespread 2-4 inches to the Indian states of Jharkhand, Bihar, eastern Uttar Pradesh as well as portions of Nepal into Saturday.
Along the track of the storm, rainfall totals can climb as high as 12-18 inches with an AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 24 inches.
Flash flooding, mudslides and washouts are all possible with this amount of rainfall in such a short period of time.
In just 24 hours, Chandbali recorded 11.35 inches of rainfall from Tuesday into Wednesday. The city also picked 4.13 inches from Monday to Tuesday as the outer bands of the storm swept across the eastern coast of India.
As of Wednesday afternoon, local time, Paradeep has reported 14.21 inches of rain since Tuesday morning.
According to Reuters, authorities stated that more than a million residents were evacuated across Odisha and West Bengal ahead of Cyclone Yaas.
Preparations from the storm started over the weekend as the storm began taking shape over the central Bay of Bengal.
The Kolkata International Airport suspended all operations as the cyclone passed near the city, and the Northeast Frontier Railway canceled all southbound- and Kolkata-bound passenger trains through Saturday.
Earlier this week, Naveen Patnaik, the chief minister of Odisha, urged residents moving to cyclone shelters to wear double masks and to practice social distancing. "We have to face both the challenges simultaneously," he said.
As of Thursday, more than 315,000 deaths due to the coronavirus have been reported in India and the number of confirmed cases is more than 27 million, according to Johns Hopkins. The COVID-19 death toll in India surged past the 300,000 mark on Monday, making the country just the third in the world to reach the grim milestone. According to Reuters, 100,000 of those fatalities have occurred over the last three weeks amid a hard-hitting second wave.
Vaccinations and needed COVID relief efforts have been interrupted due impacts from Cyclone Yaas.
"This type of storm is always a concern due to the susceptibility of this part of India to serious storm surge/coastal inundation as well as flooding from rainfall as well as wind damage, especially closer to the coast," AccuWeather Senior Vice President and chief meteorologist Jonathan Porter said earlier this week. He added that the storm could contribute to a "humanitarian crisis" amid the existing COVID-19 disaster.
While Kolkata, West Bengal, avoided the heaviest rainfall and strongest winds from Cyclone Yaas, thunderstorms from Yass brought 2.38 inches of rain to the city on Wednesday and Wednesday night. The city is India's third-largest with 14.1 million residents in the metropolitan area and a major port and economic hub for northeast India.
According to Porter, West Bengal has the nation's fourth-highest COVID-19 positivity rate (around 29.8%). The positivity rate did not drop very much last week in the state compared to other portions of India where the positivity rate declined significantly.
"Also, less than 10% of the residents of this state are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, so this cyclone is going to have a major impact on testing, treatment and vaccine distribution," he added.
Additionally, mucormycosis, informally known as "Black Fungus," is increasingly cropping up across India, and Kolkata has recently reported its first cases of the fungal infection.
This storm will likely put additional strain on the recovery efforts for this illness, especially since this fungus grows in extremely moist environments which will likely be exacerbated by this tropical cyclone, warned Porter.
Western India is still recovering from a direct hit from Tropical Cyclone Tauktae, which made landfall less than a week ago on the Kathiawar Peninsula of Gujarat.
At least 122 deaths are being blamed on the cyclone, including 37 crew members from the barge that sank off the coast of Mumbai, according to the Times of India.
The Indian Ocean is currently in one of two peaks in the tropical season, Zartman said. "One peak is right now, just before the start of the Southwest monsoon, the other peak is later in the fall, right after the Southwest monsoon ends."
Some residents forced to evacuate in West Bengal are still trying to rebuild after Cyclone Amphan, the most powerful storm in more than a decade to hit eastern India, made landfall in the Indian state last year.