India evacuates 1.2 million people as Cyclone Fani hits land with winds gusting up to 205 kph

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Cyclone Fani has made landfall in north-east India, bringing heavy rain and winds of up to 205 kilometres per hour and prompting the evacuation of more than 1 million people.

Key points:

  • Cyclone Fani has been rated a category five storm
  • The storm has hit the coast with winds gusting at 205 kph and has been described as “extremely severe”
  • About 1.2 million people have been evacuated

Thousands of villagers piled possessions onto trucks before fleeing their homes as the category five storm churned through the Bay of Bengal near the coastal state of Odisha.

The India Meteorological Department described the storm as “extremely severe”.

About 1.2 million people have been evacuated from low-lying areas of 15 districts in the eastern state to nearly 4,000 cyclone shelters, schools and other buildings, authorities said.

There were no reports of deaths.

Shops have collapsed onto a street as palm trees are blown around in the strong winds of a cyclone

About 60 kilometres inland, high winds uprooted trees and electricity poles in the state capital, Bhubaneshwar, where authorities had ordered the airport to stay closed.

In the city, which is famous for an 11th-century Hindu temple, palm trees whipped back and forth against skies made opaque by gusts of rain.

The national highway to Puri, a popular tourist beach city, was littered with fallen trees and electricity poles, making it impassable.

A view of a map with weather lines showing the path of the cyclone.

A special train ran on Thursday to evacuate tourists from the city.

The airport in Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, was closed until Saturday morning.

At least 200 trains were cancelled across India.

The National Disaster Response Force dispatched 54 rescue and relief teams of doctors, engineers and deep-sea divers to flood-prone areas along the coast and as far afield as the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, about 1,300 kilometres east of the mainland.

Schools and colleges in Odisha were also shut.

Doctors and other medical staff have been told to defer any leave until May 15.

The Navy has deployed seven warships and has six planes and seven helicopters on standby along with divers, rubber boats, medical teams and relief materials.

Cyclone Fani was forecast to weaken to a “very severe” storm as it moved north-east toward the state of West Bengal.

A house sits among trees being bent by strong winds and rain as a cyclone hits

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted the Government would provide all possible assistance.

In Paradip, television footage showed residents piling bicycles, sewing machines and gas cylinders onto small trucks and leaving for any of nearly 900 shelters supplied with food, water and medicines.

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.

Technological advancements have helped meteorologists to predict weather patterns well in advance, giving authorities more time to prepare.

In 1999, a super-cyclone battered the coast of Odisha for 30 hours, killing 10,000 people. 

A mass evacuation of nearly a million people saved thousands of lives in 2013.

About 20 people stand silhouetted in the far distance on a beach with big looming grey clouds above them.