Cyclone slams into Indian temple town, Bangladesh braces with evacuation order

VIDEO: REUTERS
Cyclone Fani tore down trees, blew away food stands and cut off power and water as it slammed into India.
Cyclone Fani tore down trees, blew away food stands and cut off power and water as it slammed into India.PHOTO: AMAN PRATAP SINGH VIA REUTERS
Cyclone Fani tore down trees, blew away food stands and cut off power and water as it slammed into India.
Cyclone Fani tore down trees, blew away food stands and cut off power and water as it slammed into India.PHOTO: AMAN PRATAP SINGH VIA REUTERS
Cyclone Fani tore down trees, blew away food stands and cut off power and water as it slammed into India.
Cyclone Fani tore down trees, blew away food stands and cut off power and water as it slammed into India.PHOTO: AMAN PRATAP SINGH VIA REUTERS
Indian commuters navigate down a nearly deserted road in Puri in the eastern Indian state of Odisha, on May 3, 2019, as Cyclone Fani approaches the coastline.
Indian commuters navigate down a nearly deserted road in Puri in the eastern Indian state of Odisha, on May 3, 2019, as Cyclone Fani approaches the coastline.PHOTO: AFP

DHAKA (REUTERS, AFP) – A cyclone barrelled into eastern India on Friday (May 3), damaging houses in the tourist town of Puri and wounding 160 people after a million people were moved into storm shelters.

Trees were uprooted, power and telecom lines snapped as Tropical Cyclone Fani, the strongest storm to hit India in five years, swept ashore the eastern state of Odisha.

Indian government spokesman Sitanshu Kar said there were no reports of deaths but 160 people were believed to be injured. However, an official in Odisha state said there had been two deaths. “I can confirm two deaths for now. One old man in one of the shelters died because of (a) heart attack. Another person went out in the storm despite our warnings and died because a tree fell on him,” Odisha state special relief commissioner Bishnupada Sethi told AFP. 

Bangladesh, which lies further up the path of Tropical Cyclone Fani, ordered the evacuation of 2.1 million people before the storm arrives on Saturday.

Fani spent days building up power in the northern reaches of the Bay of Bengal before it struck the coast of Odisha at around 8am., the state-run India Meteorological Department (IMD) said.

Express-train winds gusting up to 200kmh whipsawed trees, uprooting scores, and driving rain impacted visibility, while streets were deserted in the state capital Bhubaneswar and Puri.

“Damage in Puri is extensive, power supply, telephone lines disrupted,” Sethi told Reuters, referring to the seaside Hindu temple town that is popular with pilgrims and was directly in the storm’s path.

Cyclone tracker Tropical Storm Risk put Fani as a powerful category four storm on a scale of one to five. The IMD said the storm was now weakening.

Close to 60km inland, winds brought down electricity poles in Bhubaneswar. Flights have been cancelled in and out of Odisha's capital Bhubaneswar and Kolkata in West Bengal until at least Saturday.

More than 200 trains have been cancelled along coastal routes, according to Indian Railways. However, three special trains were running from Puri to evacuate pilgrims and tourists.

Schools and colleges in Odisha were also shut. A major hospital in the city suffered extensive structural damage but all patients and staff were safe, authorities said.

“PANIC SITUATION”

“It was a massive cyclone, like many others our house is flooded. Boundary walls of houses around us have collapsed, trees have been uprooted. It is a panic situation,” Anuradha Mohanty, a Bhubaneswar resident, told Reuters.

People packed into shelters, spreading mats to wait out the storm, television and social media showed.

More than 600 pregnant women were shifted into safe locations, with nearly 500 ambulances on standby. Some 242 medical institutions had been provided with power back-up, government authorities said.

India's National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) shared images of several uprooted trees along the coast in Andhra Pradesh state to the south.

The NDRF teams were trying to remove the fallen trees and branches to ensure they don't become projectiles if the winds intensify.

But a few thousand are known to have defied the evacuation orders in Puri. Some took shelter in local schools and hotels.

Mr Krishna Chandra Sahu, 43, took seven members of his family to a city hotel to ride out the storm.

"We didn't feel our home was safe so we came here," he told AFP.

"We will just stay for the day until the cyclone has passed. We are not scared, but we feel safer here."

Plants of Indian Oil Corporation Ltd, the country’s top refiner, and power producer NTPC Ltd are operating normally in Odisha.

Heavy rains lashed the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka and a few coastal districts of the country. Seaports have been ordered shut, a government official said.

 
 
 

Bangladesh’s junior disaster minister Enamur Rahman said 56 thousand volunteers were racing to move millions out of the storm’s path.

The storm is not expected to touch the country’s south-eastern district of Cox’s Bazar where nearly a million Rohingya Muslims are sheltered.

India’s cyclone season can last from April to December, when severe storms batter coastal cities and cause widespread deaths and damage to crops and property in both India and neighbouring Bangladesh.

But recent technological advances have helped meteorologists predict weather patterns more accurately and prepare.

A super-cyclone battered the coast of Odisha for 30 hours in 1999, killing 10,000 people. In 2013, a mass evacuation of nearly a million people likely saved thousands of lives.
Cyclones typically quickly lose power as they move inland.