CHENNAI (AlertNet) - Rain and gale force winds lashed the southeast coast on Friday, bringing down walls and power lines and killing at least six people as cyclone Thane made landfall near Chennai.
With winds of up to 135 kph and tidal surges of up to 5 feet, Thane hit Tamil Nadu, close to the former French colonial town of Pondicherry, forcing some people in coastal villages to seek safety in relief shelters.
The storm quickly lost strength over land, with winds dropping to 75 kph.
"There have been six cyclone-related deaths in different villages in this area mainly due to wall collapses or electrocution," said V. Amuthavalli, an official in Cuddalore district, one of the worst-hit areas in Tamil Nadu.
"Our priority right now is to restore power supplies and other infrastructure problems which have been damaged."
The weather office said Thane, which had moved in from the Bay of Bengal hitting the coast between Cuddalore and Pondicherry at around dawn, would also have an impact in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh, but to a lesser degree.
Heavy rain was expected to last for 12 hours and the strong winds would weaken to about 45 kph by the end of the day, it said in its latest bulletin.
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 Orissa for 30 hours with wind speeds reaching 300 kph. It killed 10,000 people.
Authorities have set up emergency control rooms and disaster response teams have been deployed.
According to the U.N.'s Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System, up to 1.2 million people live in the affected area, with almost 80,000 in low-lying coastal areas.
Aid workers in Tamil Nadu said it was too early to assess the damage and whether there was a need for emergency aid.
"Some roads have been blocked due to trees being uprooted by the strong winds, and electricity supplies and phone lines are also out in the worst-affected areas," said Joseph Sahayam, emergency officer for the Churches Auxiliary for Social Action.
"Mud and thatch homes along the coast are also believed to have suffered some damage."
Thane is also expected to damage rice, groundnut and maize crops in both Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.
Andhra Pradesh is the biggest producer of corn in India and the second-biggest producer of rice and groundnut, while Tamil Nadu is not a key producer.
(AlertNet is a global humanitarian news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation. Visit www.trust.org/alertnet)
(Writing by Nita Bhalla; Additional reporting by Ashok Kumar Kesani in Hyderabad; Editing by Robert Birsel)