A severe cyclone packing winds of 110 kilometres (70 miles) an hour hit India's southeast coast on Thursday as tens of thousands of people evacuated their homes fearing major damage.
Cyclone Laila slammed into the state of Andhra Pradesh 50 kilometres southwest of the city of Machilipatnam, the Indian Meteorological Department said, forecasting a sea surge and disrupted power and communication lines.
As heavy rain and strong gales battered the coast, state authorities said at least 40,000 people had been evacuated from low-lying areas.The armed forces were drafted in to help the evacuation efforts after Andhra Pradesh's chief minister K. Rosaiah called Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to request extra assistance."We have had no power supply since yesterday," Ramulu, a middle-aged resident of Balajinagar town, told the TV5 local news channel.
"The municipal authorities are just not bothered about people's plight," he said. "We have formed our own teams to clear the roads of fallen trees and electric poles."
The meteorological department described the cyclone as "severe" and forecast extremely heavy rainfall in places during the afternoon and into Friday.Its latest warning also predicted that a "storm surge" of up to two metres above the regular tide was likely to inundate parts of Andhra Pradesh as the cyclone moved up the coast."Cyclone Laila has made landfall and will take four hours for the entire system to cross," V. Prasad Rao, director of the cyclone warning centre in the coastal city of Visakhapatnam, told AFP. "The impact will last for 12 hours."
Large trees were uprooted and some cars damaged by gusts of wind that touched 120 kilometres an hour, television pictures showed.All fishermen were ordered to stay on shore due to "very rough" sea conditions, and the Press Trust of India news agency said Reliance Industries had suspended crude oil and gas production in the Bay of Bengal as a precaution.
State disaster officials said that besides existing cyclone shelters, schools and community halls were serving as relief camps to evacuees.Three people were killed when a shed collapsed during heavy winds in Andhra Pradesh, while a fisherman drowned in rough sea in neighbouring Tamil Nadu state. Local reports put the total death toll at between 14 and 17.
The cyclone, which weakened during the day, is forecast to move north along the coast through Orissa and West Bengal states after making land.India and Bangladesh are hit regularly by cyclones that develop in the Bay of Bengal between April and November, causing widespread damage to homes and fields.