At least 12 people were killed in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh overnight as a severe cyclonic storm barrelled through India’s southeast coast, uprooting trees, flattening homes and overturning vehicles and leaving worst-hit Chennai without power since Monday afternoon.
At least four of the deaths were reported from Chennai, which fell in the path of Cyclone Vardah after it made landfall close to the coast of Tamil Nadu’s capital on Monday afternoon.
The other deaths were reported from Kancheepuram, Tiruvallur, Villupuram and Nagapattinam, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said, but did not give details of the incidents.
In Andhra Pradesh, two people were electrocuted in Chittor town when they touched live power cables felled during the storm. The Coast Guard also mounted search for two fishermen reported missing in Kakinada.
Officials said the “very severe” Cyclone Vardah – meaning red rose – was the most intense storm to have hit Chennai in two decades and packed windspeed of upto 140 kmph at its peak.
The remnants of the cyclone continued to dump heavy rains across several districts in the two states, officials added.
Though the Chennai airport was re-opened for traffic on Tuesday, the Tamil Nadu government ordered all educational institutions be kept shut for the second day in Chennai, Kanchipuram and Tiruvallur districts. Educational institutions were closed for the day at in Nellore and Chittoor.
“After 1994, this is the first very severe cyclonic storm to hit Chennai coast,” PTI quoted a senior met official as saying in Chennai.
Civic workers used hand-held battery-operated wood cutters to remove hundreds of uprooted trees, some of them falling over vehicles.
Amateur videos and photographs posted on social media gave a glimpse of the magnitude of the storm with a mobile clip showing a hatchback toppling over under the impact of the fierce winds.
Another clip showed what appeared to be a plastic panel being blown off the façade of a luxury hotel in the Tamil Nadu capital, a major automobile and IT hub. HT could not verify the authenticity of the clips.
A home ministry spokesperson said in Delhi six teams of the central and state disaster response forces were engaged in rescue efforts.
About 8,000 people from low-lying areas in north Chennai, Pazhaverkadu in Tiruvallur district and villages off Mamallapuram, in Kanchipuram district were safely evacuated to 95 relief shelters, officials said.
In Andhra Pradesh, over 9,400 people living along the Bay of Bengal were evacuated to relief camps amid heavy rain.
Also, separate teams of personnel drawn from the health, sanitary and electricity departments were deployed for relief operations in low-lying areas of the three storm-hit Tamil Nadu districts.
Union home minister Rajnath Singh also spoke to chief ministers of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh to take stock of the situation in the two states and promised all help.
The Southern Railway said the cyclone caused severe impact to its infrastructure and prompted cancellation, diversion and suspension of rail services.
“The intensity of the cyclone has had a severe impact on the infrastructure of Chennai Division, resulting in considerable damage. Overhead electrical lines have been
damaged at several locations,” Anupam Sharma, divisional railway manager, Southern Railway said.
Operations at Chennai airport were suspended for the night, with nearly 170 services being disrupted through the day even as 10 flights were cancelled.
India’s cyclone season usually runs from April to December, with storms often causing dozens of deaths, evacuations of tens of thousands of people and widespread damage to crops and property.
Wind speeds topped 300 km per hour (186 mph) in a “super-cyclone” that killed 10,000 people in 1999 in Odisha, while a cyclone packing speeds of more than 200 kph (124 mph) lashed the east coast in 2013.
(With agency inputs)