Millions told to stay at home as cyclone hits India

People run for shelter as the ferocious wind ripped into the Bay of Bengal Coast. Picture: AP
People run for shelter as the ferocious wind ripped into the Bay of Bengal Coast. Picture: AP
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CYCLONE Hudhud blasted India’s eastern seaboard yesterday with gusts of up to 120 mph, uprooting trees, damaging buildings and killing at least three people despite a major evacuation effort.

The port city of Visakhapatnam, home to two million people and a major naval base, was hammered as the cyclone made landfall yesterday, unleashing the huge destructive force it had sucked up from the warm waters of the Bay of Bengal. Upended trees and wreckage were strewn across Visakhapatnam, known to locals as Vizag.

Most people heeded warnings to take refuge, but three who ventured out were killed, officials said.

The chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, the state that bore the brunt of Hudhud’s onslaught, said the extent of damage would only become known after the storm abates.

“We are unable to ascertain the situation. Seventy per cent of communication has totally collapsed ... this is the biggest calamity,” Chandrababa Naidu said.

“We are asking people not to come out of their houses,” Mr Naidu said, adding that damage assessment would start today.

“We are mobilising men and material immediately.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Mr Naidu and promised “all possible assistance in relief and rescue operations”, his central government said.

The low death toll followed an operation to evacuate more than 150,000 people to minimise the risk to life from Hudhud – similar in size and power to cyclone Phailin that struck the area exactly a year ago.

After a lull as the eye of the storm passed over the city, winds regained massive potency. Forecasters warned Hudhud would blow strongly for several hours more, before wind speeds slowed last night.

“Reverse windflow will be experienced by the city, which will again have a very great damage potential,” Mr Rathore, director-general of the state India Meteorological Department (IMD) said. Flooding is also expected.

“I never imagined that a cyclone could be so dangerous and devastating,” said an eyewitness in Vizag. “The noise it is making would terrify anyone.”

An operations centre in state capital Hyderabad was inundated with calls from people seeking help, including 350 students stranded in a building with no food or water, said Mr Hymavathi, a senior disaster management official.

Meanwhile, Typhoon Vongfong battered the southern Japanese island of Okinawa yesterday injuring 31 people and knocking out power before losing intensity and getting downgraded to a tropical storm.

Around 210,000 people from 90,000 homes were ordered to evacuate in Okinawa, 1,000 miles south of Tokyo.

Yesterday wind-speeds weakened significantly on Saturday’s peak of 146 mph, which had made Vongfong into a “super typhoon” with more than 400 flights cancelled and the bullet train halted.