A powerful cyclone struck India’s eastern coast on Friday damaging homes, uprooting trees, submerging villages and forcing over a million people to evacuate.
Cyclone Fani made landfall near the temple town of Puri, packing windspeeds of around 200 kilometres per hour and took approximately five hours to cross the coastal area, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) said.
No deaths or injuries were reported so far. The storm had destroyed thatched homes and uprooted power and communication poles in several areas, said Prabhat Ranjan Mahapatra, a top disaster management official in Odisha.
Fani, the strongest storm to hit India in several years, weakened to have wind speeds of about 130 kilometres per hour as it moved inland, the IMD said.
It will later Friday travel further north and north-east towards West Bengal and Bangladesh,
Large areas in Puri and surrounding areas were submerged as heavy rains pummelled the coast, broadcaster NDTV reported. Authorities had cut off power supplies as a precautionary measure to prevent accidents.
Strong winds and heavy showers were also seen in parts of neighbouring Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal states.
The Odisha government had evacuated more than 1.2 million people from vulnerable areas into over 4,000 shelters and asked people to remain indoors on Friday.
All flights from state capital Bhubaneswar had been cancelled from midnight. The airport in India’s eastern metropolis Kolkata, which is also in the path of the storm, will be shut from Friday afternoon until Saturday evening.
More than 200 trains scheduled to travel along the coasts of Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Odisha had been cancelled while flights from Odisha capital Bhubaneswar were suspended.
Coming during India’s vast general elections, the storm led to the cancellation or postponement of campaign rallies of top politicians including Premier Narendra Modi.
“Have cancelled my rallies for the next 48 hours because of what could be an impending disaster #CyclonicStormFANI We are monitoring the situation 24×7 and doing all it takes. I appeal to all people to cooperate. Be alert, take care and stay safe for the next two days,” West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said.
Fani is considered the most severe storm in India in two decades. More than 10,000 people were killed in 1999 when a cyclone packing winds of up to 260 kilometres per hour struck OIdisha.