NEW DELHI (AP) – Cyclone Fani made landfall on India’s eastern coast on Friday as a grade 5 storm, lashing beaches with rain and wind gusting up to 205 kilometers (127 miles) per hour.
The India Meteorological Department said the “extremely severe” cyclone in the Bay of Bengal hit the coastal state of Odisha around 8 a.m., and was forecast to weaken to a “very severe” storm as it moved north-northeast toward the Indian state of West Bengal.
In Bhubaneswar, a city in Odisha famous for an 11th-century Hindu temple, palm trees whipped back and forth like mops against skies made opaque by gusts of rain.
The national highway to Puri, a popular tourist beach city, was littered with fallen trees and electricity poles, making it impassable. A special train ran Thursday to evacuate tourists from the city.
The airport in Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, closed from 3 p.m. Friday to Saturday morning. At least 200 trains were canceled across India.
On India’s cyclone scale, Fani is the second-most severe, equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane. A 1999 “super” cyclone that killed around 10,000 people and devastated large parts of Odisha reached wind speeds of 260-280 kph (161-173 mph) per hour, according to the Meteorological Department’s scientist Dr. M. Mohapatra.
“This is not as bad,” he said.
Around 1.2 million people were evacuated from low-lying areas of Odisha and moved to nearly 4,000 shelters, according to India’s National Disaster Response Force.
Odisha Special Relief Commissioner Bishnupada Sethi, who said the evacuation effort was unprecedented in India, said communications were disrupted in some areas, but no deaths or injuries had been reported.
In the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh just south of Odisha, Fani topped electricity poles and uprooted others, leaving them in sharp angles. In the Srikakulam district, where around 20,000 people had been evacuated, thatched-roof houses collapsed and fishing boats left unmoored on beaches had been sliced into shards.
The district experienced wind speeds of 140 kph (87 mph) and received heavy rains but no loss of life or major damage was reported, district collector J. Niwas said.
Associated Press writer Omer Farooq in Hyderabad, India, contributed to this report.