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Cyclone Helen Prompts Mass Evacuations in India

by AFP
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After Phailin, Oct. 15. Manan Vatsyayana—AFP

After Phailin, Oct. 15. Manan Vatsyayana—AFP

Sea conditions off Andhra Pradesh coast ‘very rough’ during next 12 hours.

Hundreds of thousands were evacuated as a severe cyclone slammed into southeastern India on Friday, packing strong winds and torrential rains and killing at least two people.

“Cyclone Helen has made landfall,” said an official with the National Disaster Management Authority, as rains lashed Andhra Pradesh, disrupting life and snapping communication lines.

Two people were killed by falling trees in the storm that comes a month after a cyclone left at least 18 people dead and a trail of destruction along coastal Andhra Pradesh and in the eastern state of Orissa. Disaster authorities expect “high rainfall during the next 24 hours” in three coastal districts of cyclone-prone Andhra Pradesh, said the disaster-management official. The cyclone was expected to be downgraded to a “deep depression” later Friday, the official said.

State authorities have evacuated hundreds of thousands of people out of the storm’s path and rushed emergency services into areas reeling from the high winds and heavy rains. “Hundreds of thousands have been moved. We were expecting the evacuation of 400,000 people,” the NDMA official said. Rains, accompanied by winds packing speeds of up to 70 kilometers an hour, lashed parts of the mainly farming state, she said. “Sea conditions will be very rough off Andhra Pradesh coast during the next 12 hours.” Some 20 rescue teams have been deployed in the flood zone to provide help, the official said.

The Indian weather office said there could be “extensive damage to thatched roofs and huts.”

Cyclone Helen, categorized as “severe,” is considerably weaker than the “very severe” Cyclone Phailin, which pounded the east coast further to the north in October. The most powerful storms which strike India at this time of year are classed as “super-cyclones,” followed by “very severe” and “severe.” Phailin had winds of over 200 kilometers an hour. In 1999, over 8,000 people were killed when a cyclone hit the state of Orissa, which took years to recover.

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