Indian fishermen negotiate their skiff through rough waves ahead of Cyclone Hudhud making expected landfall in Visakhapatnam on Oct 11, 2014 - AFP PHOTO/STR
HYDERABAD: At least three people were killed Sunday when Cyclone Hudhud slammed into India's east coast packing winds of almost 200 kilometres (125 miles) per hour, ripping down power cables and forcing roads and railways to shut.
Around 370,000 people living along the eastern coastline were evacuated before the storm hit around 11.30 am (0600 GMT) on Sunday morning, as authorities tried to avoid mass casualties.
"We have had three deaths since this morning," said Natrajan Prakasam, a Disaster Management Commission official in the worst-hit state of Andhra Pradesh in southeast India.
Two people were crushed by falling trees, while the third was killed when a wall collapsed in heavy rains, he told AFP.
India placed its navy and coastguard on high alert ahead of the storm and advised residents to stay indoors as the cyclone passed by, warning of large waves known as storm surges.
Some flights were cancelled while bus and train services in the worst affected areas were suspended.
The head of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) said the main highway in the port city of Visakhapatnam, which was in the eye of the storm as it hit, was strewn with fallen trees and electricity pylons.
"The two big challenges facing the NDRF team are clearing roads and evacuation and rescue work," he added.
India's eastern coast and neighbouring Bangladesh are routinely hit by bad storms between April and November that cause deaths and widespread property damage.
The region is populated by fishermen and small-scale farmers, many of whom live in flimsy huts with thatched roofs or shanties.
More than 8,000 people were killed in Orissa, the state to the north of Andhra Pradesh, by a cyclone in 1999 and authorities are keen to avoid a repeat of that disaster.
Navy on alert
Last year India undertook its biggest ever evacuation ahead of the arrival of Cyclone Phailin, with about a million people moved from their homes along the east coast.
The cyclone killed at least 18 people in the state and left a trail of destruction, but authorities said the toll could have been much worse without the evacuations.
On Sunday authorities in Orissa said they had evacuated almost 70,000 before the storm hit, many of them indigenous people living in mud houses.
P.K. Mohapatra, special relief commissioner of Orissa told AFP preparations had been made to evacuate another 300,000 "once the cyclone crosses our state and if water levels rise".
Arvind Kumar, a state government official in Andhra Pradesh, said 300,000 people had been evacuated there.
"Six hours after landfall will be very crucial, though the wind speeds will come down to about 100 kilometres (per hour) by then," he said. "We have advised people to stay indoors."
Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired an emergency government meeting late Saturday to review preparations for the cyclone.
The navy earlier said it had "assumed a high degree of readiness" and ships equipped with divers, doctors, inflatable rubber boats, helicopters and relief material were on standby.
On Saturday a nine-year-old girl drowned and a boy is missing after the boat that was evacuating them from their coastal village capsized, Andhra Pradesh Chief Secretary G.C. Patie told PTI.
Authorities in Orissa have been working to evacuate members of the state's 7,000-strong Bonda tribe from their age-old habitats in the Bonda Hills, expected to be particularly hard hit by the storm.
But PTI said many were reluctant to move as they had never left the area.
"The identified 2,000 tribal people (who must move) have never come down the hills in their lifetime," Dambaru Sisa, a member of the state parliament who belongs to the Bonda tribe, told the agency.
Some of the deadliest storms in history have formed in the Bay of Bengal to India's east, including one in 1970 that killed hundreds of thousands of people in modern-day Bangladesh. - AFP