Cyclone Yaas intensified into a very severe cyclonic storm on Tuesday evening, Indian Meteorological Department Director General M Mohapatra said, even as the states of West Bengal, Odisha and Jharkhand aggressively evacuated over 12 lakh people to storm shelters by late evening.
The IMD also issued a red-coded warning alert to the Odisha and West Bengal coasts.
"The severe cyclonic storm 'Yaas' (pronounced as 'Yass') over northwest and Bay of Bengal intensified into a very severe cyclonic storm," Mr Mohapatra said.
'Yaas', which was positioned 160 km south-southeast of Paradip in Odisha and 240 km south-southeast of Digha in West Bengal over north-west and adjoining west-central Bay of Bengal on Tuesday evening, is likely to gain a maximum speed of 155 kmph to 165 kmph gusting to 185 kmph during landfall, the Met department said.
"It is very likely to cross north Odisha-West Bengal coasts between Paradip and Sagar Islands close to north of Dhamra and south of Balasore, in the morning hours of Wednesday, the 26th May as a Very Severe Cyclonic Storm," the Cyclone Warning Division of the IMD added.
Flight operations at the Kolkatas NSCBI airport here will be suspended from 8.30 am to 7.45 pm owing to the weather warning on Wednesday, the Airports Authority of India said.
Bhubaneshwar's Biju Patnaik International airport too will remain shut from 11 pm Tuesday till 5 am on Thursday. The South Eastern Railways too has cancelled several trains,
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said that her administration has evacuated over nine lakh people from coastal districts to safe shelters.
The Odisha government, on the other hand, said it has moved over 3 lakh people from vulnerable coastal areas to safety.
Ms Banerjee said over 74,000 officers and workers and over 2 lakh policemen and civic volunteers have been deployed to mitigate the natural calamity in West Bengal.
She said that National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) personnel too have been deployed.
"We have evacuated at least 9 lakh people to relief and flood centres. There are 4,000 flood centres in the state."
"We are monitoring the situation 24/7. Control rooms have been set up at every block to monitor the situation, apart from the one at state secretariat Nabanna," she said.
Ms Banerjee said adequate arrangements have been made for Kolkata.
Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) Board of Administrators' Chairman Firhad Hakim, who is under house arrest in the Narada case, is monitoring the situation from home, she said.
The Eastern Command of the Indian Army, on requisition, is working in coordination with the West Bengal government, and has deployed several columns for relief and rescue operations, a Defence official said.
"A total of 17 cyclone relief columns, comprising specialised army personnel with associated equipment and inflatable boats, have been deployed to the state," he said.
The Army columns have been deployed at Purulia, Jhargram, Birbhum, Bardhaman, West Midnapore, Howrah, Hooghly, Nadia, South and North 24 Parganas districts, the official said.
Special Relief Commissioner of Odisha, PK Jena, said that over 2.10 lakh people residing in kutcha houses in low- lying areas have been moved to cyclone shelters.
The highest number of evacuees are from Balasore district (74,132), followed by Bhadrak (73,103).
Around 5,000 pregnant women expecting delivery by June 1 have been admitted to hospitals, a health official said.
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has rushed Odisha's Minister of State for Home, DS Mishra to Balasore to monitor the situation in the northern parts of the state.
Mr Jena said the four coastal districts of Kendrapara, Jagatsinghpur, Bhadrak and Balasore are in the high-risk zone, while the impact of 'Yaas' will also be felt in Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, Sundergarh, Dhenkanal, Angul, and parts of Puri and Khurda districts.
"We have started preparation accordingly after the IMD predicted that the cyclone will hit the coast anywhere near Bhitarkanika, Dhamra and Chandbali," Mr Jena said.
Also, 404 rescue teams including 52 from the NDRF, 60 from the Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF), 205 Fire service teams and 86 groups of tree-cutters have been deployed in the vulnerable districts, he said.
Mr Jena said over 10,000 Energy Department employees have been deployed in the vulnerable districts to restore power and 2,000 more will reach by Tuesday night.
Jajpur district administration has prohibited the movement of vehicles, barring the emergency ones, on National Highway 16 from Chandikhole to Balasore from Tuesday midnight till landfall, Collector Chakravarti Singh Rathore said.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy has asked Collectors of the three north coastal districts to be on a high alert as Yaas crosses over into neighbouring Odisha.
The Chief Minister conducted a videoconference with Collectors of Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram and Srikakulam districts and reviewed the situation.
Chief Secretary Aditya Nath Das, who was camping in Srikakulam, bordering Odisha, briefed the Chief Minister on the prevailing situation in the three north coastal districts.
Jharkhand too has evacuated people from vulnerable areas in East and West Singhbhum districts near the borders of West Bengal and Odisha and moved them to safety, a senior official said.
The cyclone is likely to hit the Kolhan division comprising East and West Singhbhum and Saraikela-Kharsawan districts, besides Bokaro and Khunti, Disaster Management Secretary Amitabh Kaushal told PTI.
Director General of Police Neeraj Sinha added "This is the first time in the history of Jharkhand that it is facing such a severe cyclonic storm. We are ready to deal with its impact."
IMD senior scientist Dr R K Jenamani said that Jharkhand is likely to witness wind speeds of up to 110-120 kmph.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar too held a review meeting on impending cyclone Yass and instructed officials to remain alert to deal with the calamity.
Chairing a virtual meeting with officials of disaster management and other departments and also district magistrates, the chief minister told them to make all arrangements in advance to meet the storm challenges.
The Met Department also warned of bending or uprooting of electric poles and disruption of railway services due to snapping of power lines and signalling systems.
Meanwhile, at least two persons were electrocuted to death and around 80 houses partly damaged after a storm, which West Bengal Chief Minister Banerjee described as a "tornado", hit Hooghly and North 24 Parganas districts on Tuesday.
The natural event struck hours before cyclone 'Yaas' makes landfall near Dhamra Port in Odisha's Bhadrak district early on Wednesday.
"This was unexpected... The tornado wreaked havoc in Chinsurah, partly damaging 40 houses. Two persons were also electrocuted to death," she told reporters.
In North 24 Parganas district's Halisahar, the "tornado" lasted a little over a minute, but it effects were huge.