India Bracing for Cyclone Yaas Amid COVID Crisis Could Spell Humanitarian Disaster for Country

India is bracing for Cyclone Yaas amid concerns it could spell a humanitarian disaster amid the nation's ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

The major cyclonic storm is gaining traction and heading to India's northeastern coast. It comes a week after one of the strongest tropical cyclones in history in the Arabian Sea, Cyclone Tauktae, blasted western India and impacted its COVID-19 relief operations as deaths from the virus surpassed 300,000 Monday, according to the AccuWeather Global Weather Center.

"I am concerned this can easily and quickly become a humanitarian crisis due to the existing COVID-19 disaster," AccuWeather Senior Vice President and Chief Meteorologist Jonathan Porter said.

Yaas had wind speeds of around 70 mph as of Tuesday morning local time and was located over the Bay of Bengal 124 miles southeast of the seaport city Paradeep, along India's northern coast in the state of Odisha, and the storm is expected to worsen before moving from over water to land by the middle of the week.

As it moves onshore, winds could reach 100-120 mph and 125 mph winds are expected near or east of where Yaas moves over land, according to the AccuWeather Global Weather Center.

The storm could impede COVID-19 vaccinations and relief efforts that India desperately needs and the high winds could cause power outages and damage homes and structures.

AccuWeather Lead International Meteorologist Jason Nicholls believes that Yaas is likely to make landfall near or just east of Paradeep.

"At landfall, the cyclone could be a very severe cyclonic storm," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Tony Zartman. It could be the equivalent to a category two or three based on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

Yaas could bring heavy rainfall to the Indian states of northeast Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar and also to parts of neighboring Nepal and Bangladesh.

India's third largest city of Kolkata in West Bengal is home to 14.1 million people in the metropolitan area and might be one of the hardest hit places from Yaas, according to the AccuWeather Global Weather Center.

"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," said Porter regarding West Bengal. He added the state has the nation's fourth-highest COVID-19 positivity rate.

AccuWeather meteorologist Danielle Knittle told Newsweek that with Yaas, "we're going to be looking at delays in getting aid and relief" to affected areas in regards to COVID-19.

Particularly referring to West Bengal based on the area's high rate of cases, Knittle said delays in aid or vaccines would be "disheartening."

"Unfortunately, I would say that there is that potential for some life-threatening storm surge here with the system as it does move on shore and make landfall," Knittle added. "Storm surge is definitely one big concern besides flooding rainfall, damages to a lot of the structures and trees."

Eight cyclones have emerged from the Bay of Bengal into eastern India since 2017, according to Knittle.

The strongest and the costliest was Cyclone Amphan that occurred last May, she said, which made landfall near the spot where Yaas could potentially move over land.

Knittle added that India is still recovering from Amphan, which caused 128 deaths.

"Not saying that they're going to be comparable, but that's what happened with last year's storm in almost a very similar area," she said in regards to Yaas and Amphan.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) announced on Monday morning local time that a deep depression over the Bay of Bengal "intensified" into Cyclone Yaas.

Deep Depression over Eastcentral Bay of Bengal intensified into Cyclonic Storm ‘Yaas’ and about 600 km of Port Blair. To intensify into a Severe Cyclonic Storm during next 24 hours and into a Very Severe Cyclonic Storm during subsequent 24 hours.

— India Meteorological Department (@Indiametdept) May 24, 2021

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday convened a meeting to discuss the country's preparedness for the cyclone and called for those participating in off-shore activities to evacuate, according to The Tribune India.

Modi tweeted that he "also emphasized on ensuring COVID-19 treatment of patients in affected areas does not suffer due to the cyclone," during the meeting and added he is "praying for everyone's safety and well-being."

So far, more than 155,000 people have been evacuated from areas near Odisha's coast and nearly 810,000 people have been evacuated from West Bengal, according to local officials.

Cyclone #Yaas

1,55,129 persons evacuated from low-lying areas along the coast so far in 7 Districts

Figures from #Odisha Police

— Manas Mishra (@SpeaksManas) May 25, 2021

#CycloneYaas: 8,09,830 people have been evacuated from low-lying areas in 14 districts of #WestBengal: NDRF

— Journalist Siraj Noorani (@sirajnoorani) May 25, 2021

At least 122 deaths are being blamed on Cyclone Tauktae, according to the Times of India.

Since January 3, 2020 as of Monday, there have been 26,948,874 confirmed COVID-19 cases in India with 307,231 deaths, according to reports received by the World Health Organization (WHO). So far, 185,766,518 vaccine doses have been given.

Updated 05/25/2021, 5:00 p.m. this story was updated to include comments from Knittle.

Villagers in India at Shelter Amid Cyclone
Villagers wait at a shelter as Cyclone Yaas barrels towards India's eastern coast in the Bay of Bengal, where is expected to make a landfall tomorrow, in Digha some 190 Km from Kolkata on May 25, 2021. Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP via Getty Images