Authorities in southern India are on alert as a cyclone moving toward the country’s southeastern coast intensifies, weather officials said.
Cyclone Vardah, packing winds of up 110-120 kilometers an hour (68-74 miles per hour) is moving in from the Bay of Bengal and is expected to make landfall at Chennai in the southern state of Tamil Nadu later today, the India Meteorological Department said Monday.
The cyclone, which is expected to lose some speed when it hits land, will bring “heavy to very heavy rainfall at a few places including Chennai and other districts of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh during next 24 hours,” said M. Mohapatra, director of the cyclone warning division at India Meteorological Department.
According to the London-based storm tracking service, Tropical Storm Risk, Vardah is presently a category 1 storm on a scale that rises to category 5, which is the worst.
NASA’s Terra satellite, which flew over the storm on Dec. 11, captured an image of it brewing in the Bay of Bengal.
“Fishermen have been advised not to venture out into the sea. Coastal dwellers are advised to move to safer places,” Mr. Mohapatra said.
The storm could damage houses, disrupt power and communications and cause rail and road delays. Paddy crops and orchards in Chennai could also be damaged, authorities said.
The administration has asked the army, navy and air force to be on standby. The navy said it had divers and doctors ready to help and rubber boats that can carry 5,000 people.
On average, five cyclonic storms strike India each year, either between April and June before the onset of monsoon, or from October to December, just after the rainy season ends.
Vardah will be the fourth cyclonic storm originating in the Bay of Bengal to affect India this year.
A severe cyclone in 1999 killed more than 15,000 people in India’s eastern Orissa state. In 2011, more than 30 people died and many homes were damaged after a cyclone hit near the union territory of Pondicherry. In 2010, at least 23 people died in a powerful cyclone in Andhra Pradesh.
India is, however, getting better at reducing cyclone casualties. In 2014, fewer than 20 people died when a severe cyclone made landfall in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh because of a well-organized effort by the government and relief agencies, who managed to evacuate around a million people to higher ground.