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Cyclone Fani hits Indian coast, a million people evacuated


© Reuters. Stranded passengers rest inside a railway station after trains between Kolkata and Odisha were cancelled ahead of Cyclone Fani, in Kolkata

By Jatindra Das

BHUBANESHWAR, India (Reuters) – A powerful cyclone lashed coastal areas of eastern India on Friday with torrential rain and winds gusting up to 200 kilometres per hour (124 mph), but there were no early reports of casualties with a million people evacuated before it made landfall.

Having spent days building up power in the northern reaches of the Bay of Bengal, tropical Cyclone Fani finally struck the coast of Odisha state at around 8 am local time (0320 GMT), the state-run India Meteorological Department (IMD) said.

The state had evacuated more than a million people from the most vulnerable communities along the low-lying coast during the past 24 hours, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said on Twitter.

Close to 60 km (37 miles) inland, high winds uprooted trees and electricity poles in the state capital, Bhubaneshwar, where authorities had ordered the airport to stay closed. Schools and colleges in Odisha were also shut.

Hundreds of disaster management personnel were deployed in the state, and doctors and other medical staff were told to defer any leave until May 15.

Neighbouring West Bengal also decided to close an airport at Kolkata, its state capital.

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, and authorities have become far better at preparing for the ferocious storms and reducing casualties.

A super-cyclone battered the coast of Odisha for 30 hours in 1999, killing 10,000 people. While in 2013, a mass evacuation of nearly a million people likely saved thousands of lives.

Cyclones typically quickly lose power as they move inland.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked his officials to stay in touch with the states at risk from cyclone Fani.

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