A cyclone barrelled into the southeast coast of India yesterday, killing at least four people and bringing down trees and power lines as authorities moved tens of thousands of people from low-lying areas.
Cyclone Vardah moved west over the Bay of Bengal before hitting Chennai, capital of Tamil Nadu, as well as neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, the Indian Meteorological Department said, describing it as a “very severe storm”.
Strong wind of up to 140kph battered the densely populated coast, uprooting trees and bringing down electricity pylons.
Flights at Chennai airport were cancelled, railway services in the area suspended and schools and colleges were closed.
Chennai is home to Indian operations of major auto firms such as Ford Motor Daimler Hyundai and Nissan.
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said Vardah is passing over Chennai, drenching the city in heavy rain, but is expected to ease in intensity later.
“Winds and rains might still intensify. Do not venture out,” the NDMA said on Twitter, adding that four people had been killed.
The government said over 8,000 people were shifted to relief camps set up in Chennai, Kanchipuram, Thiruvallur and Villupuram districts.
More than 10,000 people from two districts in Andhra Pradesh had also been moved, its disaster management commissioner, M V Seshagiri Babu, said.
The NDMA warned fishermen not to venture out to sea for the next 36 hours, and urged residents to stay in safe places.
Navy ships and aircraft, as well as 30 diving teams, were on standby to help move people and deliver aid if needed, a navy spokesman said.
TV footage showed cars toppling under the force of gushing winds and heavy rain in Chennai, where devastating floods last year killed at least 250 people.
On its way inland, Vardah hit several islands in the Andamans last week, forcing authorities to evacuate hundreds of stranded tourists from the archipelago.
The federal Ministry of Water Resources advised the Tamil Nadu government to maintain strict vigil at lakes in the districts expecting heavy rainfall from Vardah.
In an advisory to the state government, the ministry said: “In view of the expected heavy to very heavy rainfall in the districts of Chennai, Kanchipuram and Thiruvallur, along with very severe cyclonic storm Vardah good inflows are likely into the reservoirs of Poondi, Chembarampakkam and other lakes around the Chennai city.
“As the lakes are not full, the inflows shall increase the levels in the reservoirs considerably. The state government has been advised to maintain strict vigil at all the lakes in case of exceptionally heavy rainfall,” the advisory added.
India’s cyclone season usually runs from April to December, with storms often causing dozens of deaths, evacuations of tens of thousands of people and widespread damage to crops and property.
Wind speeds topped 300km per hour in an Indian “super-cyclone” that killed 10,000 people in 1999, while a cyclone packing speeds of more than 200kph lashed the east coast in 2013.
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