Three killed as Cyclone Hudhud slams into India's east coast

Vivek Nemana
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Indian fishermen negotiate their skiff through rough waves ahead of Cyclone Hudhud in Visakhapatnam on October 11, 2014

Indian fishermen negotiate their skiff through rough waves ahead of Cyclone Hudhud in Visakhapatnam on October 11, 2014 (AFP Photo/)

Hyderabad (India) (AFP) - Three people were killed Sunday despite a mass evacuation when Cyclone Hudhud slammed into India's east coast with winds of almost 200 kilometres (125 miles) per hour, downing power lines and closing roads and railways.

Around 300,000 people living along the coast in the worst-hit state of Andhra Pradesh were evacuated before the storm struck around 11.30 am (0600 GMT) on Sunday.

More than 100,000 others had been moved from their homes in neighbouring Orissa state by late afternoon as the storm headed for them.

"We have had three deaths since this morning," said Natrajan Prakasam, a Disaster Management Commission official in Andhra Pradesh in southeast India.

Two people were crushed by falling trees, while the third was killed when a wall collapsed in heavy rain, he told AFP.

India put its navy and coastguard on high alert ahead of the storm and urged residents to stay indoors as the cyclone passed by, warning of large waves known as storm surges.

Some flights were cancelled while bus and train services in the worst-hit areas were suspended.

The head of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) O.P. Singh said the main highway in the port city of Visakhapatnam, which was in the eye of the storm as it hit, was strewn with fallen trees and electricity pylons.

"The two big challenges facing the NDRF team are clearing roads and evacuation and rescue work," Singh said.

In Srikakulam, one of the five coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh in the path of the storm, an entire village was cut off in the immediate aftermath of Hudhud's landfall, he added. However, the exact number of people stranded was still unknown.

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

The region is populated by fishermen and small-scale farmers, many of whom live in flimsy huts with thatched roofs or shanties.

As the cyclonic winds hurtled north toward Orissa Sunday afternoon, television footage showed fisherman closely guarding their boats anchored offshore.

More than 8,000 people were killed in Orissa by a cyclone in 1999 and authorities are eager to avoid a repeat of that disaster.

India's chief federal government officer, Ajit Seth, warned that cyclonic winds were expected until Sunday evening with only a brief lull following the landfall.

"By around 7.00 pm the cyclone should lose 50 percent of its intensity," he said.

- Navy on alert -

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.

That cyclone killed at least 18 people and left a trail of destruction, but authorities said the toll could have been much worse without the evacuations.

On Sunday authorities in Orissa said they had evacuated almost 117,000 by late afternoon in anticipation of the cyclone moving toward their state, many of them indigenous people living in mud houses.

P.K. Mohapatra, special relief commissioner of Orissa, told AFP preparations had been made to evacuate another 300,000 "once the cyclone crosses our state and if water levels rise".

A young man from Orissa said Hudhud seemed less severe than last year's Phailin.

"Authorities seem more prepared because of past experience," he told the NDTV television network.

Arvind Kumar, a state government official in Andhra Pradesh, said 300,000 people had been evacuated there and people had been advised to stay indoors.

The meteorological department forecast torrential rain, likely to damage crops, across parts of central India and its east over the next three days.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired an emergency government meeting late Saturday to review preparations for the cyclone.

The navy earlier said it had "assumed a high degree of readiness" and ships equipped with divers, doctors, inflatable rubber boats, helicopters and relief material were on standby.

On Saturday two children and a fisherman died in Orissa during the evacuation operation, a state government official said.

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 modern-day Bangladesh.