Powerful Cyclone Nivar makes landfall in India

The centre of Nivar made landfall at 3.05am local time between Karaikal and Mamallapuram with winds of up to 130kmh. PHOTO: AFP

PUDUCHERRY, INDIA (AFP, REUTERS) - A powerful cyclonic storm hurtled into India's southern coast early Thursday (Nov 26), uprooting trees and packing strong winds and rains as tens of thousands of people took refuge in shelters.

The centre of Nivar made landfall at 3.05am local time between Karaikal in Puducherry territory and Mamallapuram in Tamil Nadu state with winds of up to 130kmh.

Thousands of state and national emergency personnel were deployed in the southern regions of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Puducherry as authorities suspended power supply across several cities to prevent damage to the electricity grid.

Initially classified as a "very severe cyclonic storm" as it swirled in the north Indian Ocean's Bay of Bengal, Nivar weakened after landfall into a severe cyclonic storm, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said.

It is forecast to move north and further weaken over the next few hours, the weather bureau added.

The danger "is not over yet as some part of the cyclone is still over the sea though centre is over the land," the IMD tweeted.

Wind gusts uprooted trees and toppled electricity pylons while downpours lashed parts of the region, causing flash floods, with Cuddalore district in Tamil Nadu recording nearly 244mm of rain since Wednesday morning.

The cyclone also caused flooding in some streets of the city of Chennai, Tamil Nadu's largest city which is home to many large automobile manufacturers, according to a Reuters witness.

Television networks showed fallen trees in Chennai and people walking in knee-deep water in some streets.

Local media reported at least five deaths in and around Chennai, due to causes including trees falling, drowning and electrocution.

"This year, because of the precautions taken, the situation has not been that bad. Except for a few fallen trees and flooding in some streets, we have largely been safe," said Mr S. Sakthivel, a shopkeeper in the city.

The Tamil Nadu government issued a severe weather warning for further thunderstorms over the coming hours.

Tamil Nadu minister R.B. Udhayakumar said late Wednesday that around 175,000 people were moved to shelters across the state as local authorities declared a public holiday Wednesday and Thursday, shutting everything except emergency services.

Flight operations at Chennai airport were suspended until Thursday morning and metro train services halted.

In Puducherry, home to 1.6 million people, the rain-soaked streets and markets were deserted and Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi appealed to locals to stay indoors and abide by authorities' instructions.

"Move to high places wherever you have to. There are relief centres. Please move there," Mr Bedi said in a video message on Twitter.

The navy said its ships, aircraft and crew were on standby to assist with disaster relief.

But people in some pockets along the coast were reluctant to abandon their homes and fishing boats and move to government shelters.

Authorities in Chennai said they were also closely observing the level of reservoirs and lakes to avoid a repeat of 2015 flooding which killed several hundred people.

Lake Chembarambakkam outside Chennai discharged extra water because of the heavy rains amid warnings to residents in low-lying areas.

No evacuation orders were issued in Sri Lanka but heavy rains were forecast, particularly in the north of the island nation.

Fishermen there were advised not to go out to sea.

More than 110 people died after "super cyclone" Amphan ravaged eastern India and Bangladesh in May, flattening villages, destroying farms and leaving millions without electricity.

But the death toll was far lower than the many thousands killed in previous cyclones of that size, a result of improved weather forecasting and better response plans.

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