CHENNAI (AlertNet) - At least 33 people died when Cyclone Thane hit coastal southern India near the former French colony of Pondicherry, officials said on Saturday, causing thousands to evacuate and damaging roads, buildings and power lines.
Thane hit Tamil Nadu state on Friday with winds of up to 135 kmph and tidal surges of up to 5 feet. About 6,000 coastal villagers were forced to seek safety in relief shelters, the state's Chief Minister J Jayalalitha said.
"Most of the deaths in the district were because of house collapses and electrocution," said V. Amuthavalli, an official in Cuddalore district, the worst-hit area.
At least seven people died in Pondicherry, popular with Indian and foreign tourists for its beaches and gardens, a town official said. A French foreign ministry spokesman said a French citizen was among those killed.
"France would like to express its profound solidarity with the authorities and people of India in the wake of cyclone Thane," the spokesman said.
Also, the foreign ministry website has advised French people planning to travel to the area for the New Year to delay their plans for a few days.
Trees were uprooted and roads damaged along a 40-km stretch of coast that includes the township of Auroville, known for its avant-garde architecture and yoga community.
The storm quickly lost strength over land and on Saturday morning India's weather office said it was now a depression that would bring some heavy rain across the south.
India's cyclone season generally lasts from April to December with severe storms often causing dozens of deaths, evacuations of tens of thousands of people from low-lying villages and widespread crop and property damage.
In 1999, a "super-cyclone" battered the coast of the eastern state of Orissa for 30 hours with wind speeds reaching 300 kph. It killed 10,000 people.
(Writing by Frank Jack Daniel with additional reporting by Vicky Buffery in Paris; Editing by Ed Lane)
(AlertNet is a global humanitarian news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation. Visit www.trust.org/alertnet)
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