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Major cyclone kills three in India, Bangladesh

Major cyclone kills three in India, Bangladesh

A lone Indian commuter cycles down nearly deserted road in Puri in the eastern Indian state of Odisha early on May 3, 2019, as Cyclone Fani approaches the Indian coastline. (Photo: AFP/DIBYANGSHU SARKAR)

PURI, India: At least three people died Friday (May 3) as Cyclone Fani, the biggest in years, slammed into eastern India, sending coconut trees flying and cutting off power, water and telecommunications.

The monster weather system, which made landfall at the eastern holy city of Puri in the morning, is one of the strongest to come in off the Indian Ocean in years, with winds gusting at speeds of up to 200kph.

In recent days authorities in Odisha state, where 10,000 people died in a 1999 cyclone, have evacuated more than a million people as they fret about a possible 1.5-metre storm surge sweeping far inland.

One man died of a heart attack in one of several thousand shelters that have been set up.

Media reports put the death toll at up to six, but officials could not confirm this.

"Another person went out in the storm despite our warnings and died because a tree fell on him," Odisha special relief commissioner Bishnupada Sethi told AFP.

"The winds outside right now must be around 200 kph," he said by phone from Odisha state capital Bhubaneswar.

READ: India braces for cyclone, puts navy on alert

READ: India evacuating 1.2 million people as cyclone menaces east coast

Authorities in Bangladesh, where Fani was headed, said a woman was killed, also by a tree, and that 14 villages were inundated as flood dams broke due to a tidal surge.

Disaster management spokesman Mohammad Jahir told AFP that 400,000 people from Bangladeshi coastal villages have been taken to shelters.

Hundreds of thousands more people in India's West Bengal state have also been given orders to flee. Local airports have been shut, while train lines and roads were closed.

"It just went dark and then suddenly we could barely see five metres in front of us," said one Puri resident.

"There were the roadside food carts, store signs all flying by in the air," the man told AFP from a hotel where he took shelter. "The wind is deafening."

Another witness said he saw a small car being pushed along a street by the winds and then turned over.

"We have been unable to make contact with our team in Puri for some time now to get the latest update about the situation there," H.R. Biswas, Indian Meteorology Department director in state capital Bhubaneswar, told AFP.

Map showing the forecast path of Cyclone Fani as it heads towards eastern India on May 2. (Graphic: AFP)

After pounding Puri and Odisha state capital Bhubaneswar and heading northeastwards, authorities were battling to remove fallen trees from roads and to restore phone and internet services.

Authorities in West Bengal have been evacuating thousands from coastal villages, minister Javed Ahmed Khan told AFP. On Saturday Fani was expected in Kolkata, a city home to 4.5 million people.

"We are monitoring the situation 24x7 and doing all it takes ... Be alert, take care and stay safe for the next two days," West Bengal's chief minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted.

Clouds loom ahead of cyclone Fani in Visakhapatnam, May 1, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

The winds were felt as far away as Mount Everest, with tents blown away at Camp 2 at 6,400m and Nepali authorities cautioning helicopters against flying.

Meanwhile a baby was born near Bhubaneswar just as the cyclone passed through.

"We are calling her Lady Fani as she was born when the hospital was hit," a spokesperson for the hospital told the Press Trust of India.

"TOTAL DESTRUCTION"

Meteorologists have warned of the "total destruction" of thatched houses, the uprooting of power and communication poles, the "flooding of escape routes" and damage to crops in some areas.

Some 3,000 shelters in schools and government buildings were set up to accommodate more than a million people in Odisha, with families including women and babies huddled on the floor.

Stranded passengers rest inside a railway station after trains between Kolkata and Odisha were cancelled ahead of Cyclone Fani, in Kolkata, India, May 3, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

Ports have been closed but the Indian Navy has sent six warships to the region while India's biggest oil and gas producer ONGC evacuated almost 500 workers from offshore rigs.

Measures were also being taken to protect the 850-year-old Jagannath temple in Puri, a Hindu holy town normally thronging with pilgrims.

AFP correspondents in the resort said it was a near ghost town with trees already torn down and water levels rising even before Fani's awesome arrival.

Electricity and water supplies were already cut for much of the city of 200,000 people. Metal shutters covered store fronts and sand blew up the streets from the nearby beach.

Only a few police vehicles and tractors trying to pull trees or push aside collapsed walls could be seen.

Stranded passengers rest inside a railway station after trains between Kolkata and Odisha were cancelled ahead of Cyclone Fani, in Kolkata, India, May 3, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

Media reports said hundreds of trees were uprooted at the nearby Chilika Lake just south of Puri in the first violent winds.

"We will just stay for the day until the cyclone has passed. We are not scared but we feel safer here," said Krishna Chandra Sahu, 43, sheltering with seven members of his family in a hotel.

In Bangladesh, disaster management chief Mohammad Hashim said that more than 4,000 cyclone shelters have been opened. Inland water transport activities were suspended.

India's east coast is vulnerable to destructive storms.

In 2017 Cyclone Ockhi left nearly 250 people dead and more than 600 missing in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

The 1999 storm wreaked US$4.5 billion worth of damage, as well as taking 10,000 lives.

Source: AFP/ad/ec/nc

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