At least three people died yesterday, as Cyclone Fani, the biggest in years, slammed into eastern India, sending coconut trees flying and cutting off power, water and telecommunications, as more than 3.5 million people were moved to shelters.
The monster system made landfall at the holy city of Puri in the morning, with winds gusting up to 205kph.
Authorities in Odisha State, where 10,000 people perished in a 1999 cyclone, evacuated more than 1 million people as they worried about a possible 1.5m storm surge sweeping far inland.
One man died of a heart attack in one of several thousand shelters set up, while another was killed by a falling tree, authorities said.
Media reports put the death toll at up to six, but officials could not confirm this.
Authorities in Bangladesh, where Fani was headed, said that a woman was killed, also by a tree, and that 14 villages were inundated as flood dams broke due to a tidal surge.
Disaster management spokesman Mohammed Jahir said that 400,000 people from Bangladeshi coastal villages have been taken to shelters.
Hundreds of thousands more people in India’s West Bengal State have also been given orders to flee. Local airports have been shut, while train lines and roads were closed.
“It just went dark and then suddenly we could barely see 5m in front of us,” a Puri resident said.
“There were the roadside food carts, store signs all flying by in the air,” the man told reporters from a hotel where he took shelter. “The wind is deafening.”
Another witness said that he saw a small car being blown along a street by the winds and then turned over.
After pounding Puri and Odisha capital Bhubaneswar, and heading northeastward, authorities were battling to remove fallen trees from roads and to restore telephone and Internet services.
Authorities in West Bengal have been evacuating thousands from coastal villages, West Bengal Minister for Disaster Management Javed Ahmed Khan said.
Today, the cyclone is expected to reach Kolkata, a city home to 4.5 million people.
“We are monitoring the situation 24x7 and doing all it takes... Be alert, take care and stay safe for the next two days,” West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted.
The winds were felt as far away as Mount Everest, with tents blown away at Camp 2 at 6,400m and Nepali authorities cautioning helicopters against flying.
Meteorologists have warned of the “total destruction” of thatched houses, the uprooting of power and communication poles, the “flooding of escape routes” and damage to crops in some areas.
About 3,000 shelters in schools and government buildings were set up to accommodate more than 1 million people in Odisha, with families huddled on the floor.
Ports have been closed, but the Indian navy has sent six warships to the region, while India’s biggest oil and gas producer, ONGC, evacuated almost 500 workers from offshore rigs.
Measures were also being taken to protect the 850-year-old Jagannath temple in Puri.
Electricity and water supplies were already cut for much of the city of 200,000 people.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg
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