Relief effort begins after deadly cyclone Hudhud hits India

A man struggles with an umbrella in strong winds and rain caused by Cyclone Hudhud in Gopalpur in Ganjam district in the eastern Indian state of Odisha on Oct 12, 2014. A major relief operation was under way on Monday after the cyclone pounded I
A man struggles with an umbrella in strong winds and rain caused by Cyclone Hudhud in Gopalpur in Ganjam district in the eastern Indian state of Odisha on Oct 12, 2014. A major relief operation was under way on Monday after the cyclone pounded India's eastern coast, killing at least six people and leaving a trail of destruction, but officials said mass evacuations helped avert a larger tragedy. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

HYDERABAD (AFP) - Workers rushed Monday to restore communication and power links and clear roads after a cyclone battered India’s east coast, killing at least 17 people and leaving a trail of destruction.

Most of the deaths were caused by falling trees and collapsed buildings in the southeastern state of Andhra Pradesh, which was worst hit by Cyclone Hudhud. A one-year-old child from the port city of Visakhapatnam was among the dead.

“A total of 17 people have lost their lives, 14 in Andhra Pradesh and three in Odisha (Orissa),” a federal home ministry statement said late Monday.

The storm struck just before midday on Sunday, bringing torrential rain and winds of nearly 200km an hour before weakening as it barrelled inland.

Authorities in Andhra Pradesh and the neighbouring state of Odisha evacuated around 350,000 people before the cyclone hit, in an attempt to avert the mass casualties inflicted on the area by previous cyclones.

"The government was able to reduce loss of life due to the precautionary measures taken," Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu told the Press Trust of India (PTI).

P.K. Mohapatra, special relief commissioner of Odisha, said his state was "better prepared this time", after Cyclone Phailin killed at least 18 people in the state last year.

"People followed our cyclone warning, there was hardly any traffic on the roads," Mohapatra said.

In Visakhapatnam, which bore the brunt of the storm's fury, homes had their roofs ripped off and hundreds of fallen trees and power pylons blocked roads.

Water and power supplies were cut off, and the city's airport and railway lines were also badly damaged.

"There is no power, no water or milk, no electricity. We are not getting petrol. We cannot move on the roads. It is difficult to survive a single day here," PTI quoted a resident as saying.

National Disaster Response Force teams began Monday to try to restore power to affected areas as evacuees left cyclone shelters and returned to their homes, the news agency said.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that he would visit Visakhapatnam on Tuesday.

India's east coast and neighbouring Bangladesh are routinely hit by severe storms between April and November that cause deaths and widespread property damage.

Some of the deadliest storms in history have formed in the Bay of Bengal to India's east, including one in 1970 that killed hundreds of thousands in what is now Bangladesh.

Last year India undertook its biggest-ever evacuation before the arrival of Cyclone Phailin, with about a million people moved from their homes along the east coast.

Mohapatra said an additional 230,000 people had been evacuated from areas at risk of flooding in Odisha by late Sunday.

Many evacuees returned on Monday to their homes along the eastern coast, which is mostly populated by fishermen and small farmers living in flimsy huts with thatched roofs or shanties.