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Cyclone Fani Slams Indian Coast, Forcing Millions To Evacuate

Crowds of people evacuated eastern India ahead of a major cyclone packing strong winds  and torrential rains.
Dibyangshu Sarkar
AFP/Getty Images
Crowds of people evacuated eastern India ahead of a major cyclone packing strong winds and torrential rains.

India's eastern coast has been pounded by Cyclone Fani, an "extremely severe" storm that has torn the roofs off houses and forced millions of people to evacuate. It has also reportedly killed at least two people.

The cyclone's effects were felt more than 500 miles away, on Mt. Everest. "Mountaineers were climbing to lower camps after conditions at higher elevations worsened," as NPR's Sushmita Pathak reports from Mumbai.

Fani made landfall at about 8 a.m. local time Friday in the state of Odisha near Puri, a city that's a popular tourist destination on the Bay of Bengal. As it neared land, the India Meteorological Department reported the cyclone had wind speeds of about 130 miles per hour and gusts of up to 139 miles per hour.

"More than a million people have been moved to shelters in the eastern Indian state of Odisha alone," Pathak says.

Video from near the area where the storm made landfall shows trees blasted with torrential rain and heavy wind, amid very low visibility.

The storm weakened to a "very severe" cyclone by late morning, and it's expected to continue to lose power as it tracks northeast.

Fani is expected to reach Gangetic West Bengal as a "severe" cyclone by tomorrow morning.

"It's likely to enter Bangladesh by tomorrow evening," said KJ Ramesh, director general of the IMD, according to the Hindustan Times. By the time the storm reaches Bangladesh, the IMD, says it's expected to be simply a cyclone, with gusts of up to 50 miles per hour. As it approached, some 2.1 million people were ordered to evacuate in Bangladesh, according to Reuters.

Cyclone season in the North Indian basin typically runs from April to December, with activity peaking in May and November, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Fani is the most severe storm to hit India in five years, Reuters reports.

While the extent of the destruction is not yet clear, the IMB had predicted the "total destruction of thatched houses" in coastal Odisha areas.

"It was a massive cyclone, like many others our house is flooded. Boundary walls of houses around us have collapsed, trees have been uprooted. It is a panic situation," Anuradha Mohanty, who lives about 40 miles inland from the center of the storm, told Reuters.

India's National Disaster Management Authority is warning people not to enter damaged buildings after the storm, and to watch out for downed electric wires and broken glass. Authorities have set nearly 4,000 shelters in Odisha, according to The Associated Press.

Fishermen have been advised not to go out into the Bay of Bengal near Odisha and the West Bengal coasts until Saturday.

The storm disrupted a number of scheduled trains and delayed flights from Kolkata in West Bengal.

Fani arrived as India is in the middle of a massive, multi-stage election — though the people of Odisha have already cast their votes.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.