Tropical cyclone Vardah, the first hurricane-strength storm to hit the Bay of Bengal this season, has struck the coastal Indian city of Chennai.
The winds at landfall on Monday were around 140 kilometers per hour (87 miles per hour), making Vardah equal to a Category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale.
The storm uprooted trees, overturned cars and did extensive damage to buildings as it tore across the city.
At least two people have died, according to the National Disaster Management Authority.
It has now moved inland, bringing gusty winds and torrential rainfall to the interior portions of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka states.
Prior to the storm’s landing, Chennai already was pounded with heavy rain and winds.
The Indian Meteorological Department has issued heavy rain warnings for the whole of southern India.
Fishermen have been told not to take their boats out for two more days.
Chennai, a city on the Bay of Bengal in eastern India, is the country’s second largest financial hub after Mumbai.
Vardah could also take a heavy toll on the country’s agricultural sector, destroying banana plantations, papaya groves and rice paddies.
According to local media reports, Vardah has prompted schools and colleges to close in Chennai, Kancheepuram, and Tiruvallur districts and in the coastal areas of Viluppuram district, in the state of Tamil Nadu.
Flight operations remained suspended at the Chennai airport till late evening while suburban train services remained suspended through the day.
Cyclone Vardah uprooted hundreds of trees and some electricity poles in Chennai.
With power supply suspended as a precaution, the city spent the night in darkness.
By nightfall, the roads, often flooded with ankle-deep water, remained deserted, with tree branches, police barricades and banners lying twisted by the side.
All schools and colleges were closed on Monday in Chennai, Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur.
Private offices were asked to allow staff to take a day off or work from home.
As the cyclone struck land, so strong were the winds that glass panels blew off the facade of a five-star hotel in Chennai, while in Andhra Pradesh, an oil tanker tipped over on a highway.
India’s Labour Department has also issued an advisory instructing companies to allow employees to work from home.
More than 170 relief camps have been set up in Chennai and several National Disaster and Reponse Force (NDRF) teams have been deployed to Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, according Krishna Kumar, a spokesman from the NDRF.
Tropical cyclone Vardah is India’s strongest storm since October 2014, when cyclone Hudhud moved into Andhra Pradesh, claiming over 100 lives and causing $3.4 billion in damage.
Vardah could also hit fishing villages located along the coast of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi posted a series of tweets expressing solidarity with the people in cyclone-hit areas. “My prayers are with all those people who are affected due to adverse weather conditions caused by #CycloneVardah. Stay safe,” he tweeted.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O Panneerselvam said more than 10,000 people have been evacuated from near the sea. More than 9,400 people were moved to relief camps in Andhra Pradesh.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh phoned the chief ministers of both Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh to assure them of the central government’s help if needed and to make an assessment of the damage.
The Navy, Army and Air Force have been on the ready to assist with evacuation and rescue.
The Navy has had two ships ready with doctors, food and water for 5,000 people.
The National Disaster Response Force or NDRF has deployed 16 teams.
Cyclone Vardah pass over south Goa on Wednesday, December 14.