KOLKATA: Normally bustling Kolkata was eerily quiet late Friday as one of the biggest cyclones to hit India in years bore down on the major city after leaving a trail of deadly destruction in its wake.
Cyclone Fani (“Snake” in Bengali) slammed into the eastern state of Odisha earlier in the day, reportedly killing at least eight people and one in Bangladesh, where it was headed after Kolkata, officials said.
With effects felt as far away as Mount Everest, winds gusting up to 200 kilometres (125 miles) per hour sent coconut trees flying and cut off power, water and telecommunications.
Authorities in Odisha, where 10,000 people perished in a 1999 cyclone, had evacuated more than a million people as they worried about a possible 1.5-metre (five-foot) storm surge sweeping far inland.
Eight people were killed, the Press Trust of India (PTI) reported, including a teenage boy, a woman hit by concrete debris and an elderly woman who suffered a heart attack in one of several thousand shelters packed with families.
Odisha disaster management official Prabhat Mahapatra said there were not yet any confirmed casualty figures.
“Around 160 people were injured in Puri alone. Our relief work is ongoing,” he told AFP.
Authorities in Bangladesh, next in Fani’s trajectory, said a woman was killed by a tree, and that 14 villages were inundated as a tidal surge breached flood dams. Some 400,000 people have been taken to shelters, officials told AFP.
Hundreds of thousands more people in India’s West Bengal state have also been given orders to flee. Local airports have been shut, with train lines and roads closed.
– ‘The wind is deafening’ –
“It just went dark and then suddenly we could barely see five metres in front of us,” said one resident in the holy city of Puri, where Fani made landfall.
“There were roadside food carts, store signs all flying by in the air,” the man told AFP. “The wind is deafening.”
Another witness said he saw a small car being blown along a street by the winds and then turned over.
PTI reported that a big crane collapsed and that a police booth was dragged 60 metres (yards) by the wind.
As Fani headed northeastwards, losing strength but still packing a punch, Odisha authorities battled to remove fallen trees and other debris strewn over roads and to restore phone and internet services.
Electricity pylons were down, tin roofs were ripped off, piles of bricks could be seen and windows of hotels and homes were smashed.
Puri’s famous 12th-century Jagannath Temple escaped damage however.
Gouranga Malick, 48, was solemnly picking up bricks after the small two-room house he shared with his six-strong family collapsed, its roof blown away.
“I have never witnessed this type of devastation in my lifetime,” he told AFP.
“Energy infrastructure has been completely destroyed,” Odisha’s chief minister Naveen Patnaik said.
A baby was born near Odisha’s capital Bhubaneswar just as the cyclone tore through.
“We are calling her Lady Fani,” a spokesperson for the hospital told PTI.—AFP