Cyclone Fani, the strongest storm to hit the Indian subcontinent in five years, has barrelled into Bangladesh after leaving a trail of deadly destruction across the eastern coast of India.
At least 16 people died in India, mostly in the worst-hit state of Odisha, Al Jazeera’s Scott Heidler said on Saturday, citing local Indian media reports.
In neighbouring Bangladesh, authorities said at least 12 people died and scored of others wounded as Fani swung northeastwards into the country.
At least four of those deaths were reported from Kishorganj district in central Bangladesh. “They died after they were struck by lightning. There have been heavy rains and storm here since Friday noon,” the district’s Deputy Commissioner Sarwar Murshed Chowdhury told Al Jazeera.
Kabir Ahmed, Deputy Commissioner of Barguna district, said an elderly woman and her grandson died around 3 am on Saturday morning after a tree fell on their tin-shed home.
Millions moved to safety
Over a million people were moved to safety, Bangladeshi officials said, a massive evacuation exercise also followed in India’s Odisha state, where a similar cyclone 20 years ago had killed 10,000 people.
After it made landfall early on Friday, tropical cyclone Fani had lost some of its power and was downgraded to a ‘Deep Depression’ by the Indian Meteorological Department as the storm moved inland over Bangladesh.
A storm surge still breached embankments to submerge dozens of villages on Bangladesh’s low-lying coast, a disaster ministry official in Dhaka said.
“We are mooring our boat because it’s the only means of income for us. Only Allah knows when we can go back to fishing again,” Akbar Ali, a fisherman near the town of Dacope in Bangladesh, told AFP news agency while battling surging waves to tie his boat to a tree.
“The fear of a major disaster is mostly over as it has weakened,” Shamsuddin Ahmed, director of the Bangladesh Meteorological Department, told Al Jazeera.
Reporting from New Delhi, Al Jazeera’s Heidler said the priority for Indian authorities is to reach the areas hit by the monster cyclone.
“The biggest concern now is clearing the roads so that they can get to the communities that are cut off,” he said, adding that the hardest-hit areas are without electricity.
Heidler said there are also fears over Fani (“snake’s hood” in Bengali) triggering a heavy rainfall or storm surge along the eastern Indian coast.
Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal’s chief minister and a key figure in India’s ongoing general election, cancelled all political rallies and set up an improvised control room in a hotel in the path of the storm.
Motorcycles lie on a street in Odisha’s Puri city after Cyclone Fani hit on Friday [AP Photo]
Odisha state worst hit
Worst hit was the Indian state of Odisha where Fani made landfall on Friday, packing winds gusting up to 200km an hour, sending coconut trees flying, knocking down power lines and cutting off water and telecommunications.
With power lines down, authorities in Odisha’s Bhubaneswar city installed these lights on the roads [Subrat Kumar Pati/Al Jazeera]
As authorities assessed the damage, Indian media reported that at least 12 people died across Odisha, with most deaths caused by falling trees.
But a mass evacuation of 1.2 million people in the 24 hours before Fani made landfall averted a greater loss of life.
The seaside temple town of Puri, which lay directly in the path of Fani, suffered extensive damage.
“Destruction is unimaginable … Puri is devastated,” Odisha’s Special Relief Commissioner Bishnupada Sethi told Reuters news agency, adding that over a 100 people were injured.
At least six people died in Bhubaneswar, Odisha’s capital, where fallen trees blocked roads and electricity supply was still to be fully restored.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is in the midst of a general election, said in a tweet that he would visit Odisha on Monday.
Bhubaneswar airport suffered considerable damage, but would re-open on Saturday afternoon, India’s aviation ministry said.
Shelters were set up in schools and other safe buildings to accommodate the evacuees, who included scores of tourists.
Neighbouring West Bengal state escaped substantial damage, but authorities moved nearly 45,000 people to safer locations.
The cyclone season in the Bay of Bengal can last from April to December.
Faisal Mahmud contributed to this report from Dhaka, Bangladesh
Odisha state’s countryside after Cyclone Fani hit India’s eastern coast [Subrat Kumar Pati/Al Jazeera]