Cyclone Helen to hit India's east coast today; thousands evacuated
Family members repair the roof of their houses at the cyclone-hit Nalianuagaon village in Ganjam district in the eastern Indian state of Odisha. (REUTERS)
A hundred thousand residents were being evacuated from coastal areas of India's southeastern Andhra Pradesh state as a cyclone swirling in the Bay of Bengal was forecast to make landfall late on Friday with wind speeds up to 120 kph (75 mph).
Cyclone Helen, the second tropical storm to hit the state in six weeks, is likely to cause extensive damage to thatched roofs and huts and disrupt power and communication lines, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said on Thursday.
Officials were widely praised for a mass evacuation that saved thousands of lives last month when Cyclone Phailin struck, even though at least 43 people were killed and 12 million people affected as homes were destroyed and farmland inundated.
State Disaster Management Commissioner C. Parthasarathy said he was working with the same teams deployed for Phailin to move residents to safety before Helen comes hurtling inland.
"We prepared an evacuation plan," said Parthasarathy. "They are on the job."
Phailin, India's fiercest cyclone in 14 years, battered the coastline of northern Andhra Pradesh and Odisha state.
Helen is expected to cause a storm surge of about 1.0-1.5 meters above the tide, potentially inundating low-lying coastal areas and flooding escape routes, the IMD said.
Officials said they were keeping a close eye on the new cyclone as it has changed track from Wednesday, with the latest data showing it was expected to make landfall in Machilipatnam.
Shashidhar Reddy, vice chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority, said he has spoken to district officials who had identified about 100,000 residents who are being evacuated.
Disaster teams have been deployed in six districts - Nellore, Prakasam, Krishna, Guntur, East and West Godavari.