Heavy rain and gusts have ripped through a large swathe of India’s eastern seaboard, uprooting trees and snapping power cables as a powerful cyclone swept through the Bay of Bengal, one of two storms pounding Asia.
In Japan, at least 35 people have been reported injured as Typhoon Vongfong, packing winds of up to 110 miles per hour, unleashed rain and gusts on Okinawa and was aiming at the next island of Kyushu, where authorities told 150,000 people to evacuate.
Cyclone Hudhud, described as “very severe” by India’s meteorological department, could pack winds of 120 miles per hour when it makes landfall later.
The cyclone is expected to hit near the city of Visakhapatnam, one of the largest cities in southern India and a major naval base.
At least 400,000 people have been evacuated from the coastal areas of Andhra Pradesh and Orissa states as authorities aimed for zero casualties. Hundreds of shelters have been set up to house the evacuees.
As the storm approached the coast, it picked up speed and strength and experts said it could cause widespread devastation.
At least two people were reported dead in India - one from a wall collapse and the other when a tree toppled over.
Already hundreds of trees have been uprooted, Chief Staff Officer of India’s Eastern Naval Command S.K. Grewal told reporters, adding that 30 diving and 20 rescue teams were on standby.
Hundreds of rescuers of India’s National Disaster Response Force were also spread out across the two states that are expected to take the brunt of the cyclone.
Electricity lines have been disconnected in separate parts of Andhra Pradesh to avoid electrocutions, Arvind Kumar, a relief and rescue official told reporters.
Four districts in Andhra Pradesh state that are home to more than 14 million people – Srikakulam, Vijayanagaram, Visakhapatnam and East Godavari – are likely to be worst hit, including about 350 coastal villages.
The Indian Ocean is a cyclone hot spot. Of the 35 deadliest storms in recorded history, 27 have come through the Bay of Bengal – and have landed in either India or Bangladesh. In 1999, a cyclone devastated Orissa’s coastline and killed at least 10,000 people.
While India has a poor record of response to natural calamities, it managed last October to safely evacuate nearly a million people out of the path of Cyclone Phailin, the strongest tropical storm to hit India in more than a decade. Phailin destroyed hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of crops after it made landfall in Orissa, but claimed only about 25 lives.
Japan’s Meteorological Agency said Typhoon Vongfong could reach the Tokyo area by Tuesday, gradually losing strength as it moves up the archipelago. Authorities issued landslide warnings and strong winds knocked out power lines, temporarily halting bullet train service for several hours on Kyushu.
The US military on Okinawa, where last week’s typhoon killed three US airmen who were washed out at sea, instructed personnel and their families to remain indoors until strong winds and rain subsided.