The port city of Visakhapatnam, home to two million people and a major naval base, was hammered as the cyclone made landfall, unleashing the huge destructive force it had sucked up from the warm waters of the Bay of Bengal.
Upended trees and wreckage were strewn across Visakhapatnam, known to locals as Vizag. Most people heeded warnings to take refuge, but three who ventured out were killed.
“The Visakhapatnam situation is very serious,” K. Hymavathi, the special commissioner for disaster management for Andhra Pradesh state, told Reuters by telephone.
“Telecommunications are disrupted—even our control room is not able to operate properly. People staying in their apartments are so afraid that they are panicking and calling us,” she said.
The low toll reported so far followed an operation to evacuate more than 150,000 people on Saturday to minimize the risk to life from Hudhud—similar in size and power to cyclone Phailin that struck the area exactly a year ago.
After a lull as the eye of the storm passed over the city, winds regained their strength. Forecasters warned Hudhud would blow with full force for several hours more, before wind speeds halve by evening.
“Reverse windflow will be experienced by the city, which will again have a very great damage potential,” L.S. Rathore, director-general of the state India Meteorological Department (IMD), told reporters in New Delhi.
The IMD forecast a storm surge of 1-2 metres above high tide that could result in flooding of low-lying coastal areas around Visakhapatnam, Vijayanagaram and Srikakulam.
A Reuters reporter staying in Vizag said earlier that his hotel had broken windows while the ground floor was flooded by horizontal rain. Hotel staff abandoned efforts to keep the water out when they were blown back several meters by the wind.
The winds were deafening, the reporter said, sounding like explosions going off.
“I never imagined that a cyclone could be so dangerous and devastating,” said a businessman staying in the hotel. “The noise it is making would terrify anyone.”
Vizag port suspended operations on Saturday night, with its head saying that 17 ships which had been in the harbour were moving offshore where they would be less at risk from high seas.
The city airport was closed and train services suspended.
The IMD rated Hudhud as a very severe cyclonic storm that could pack gusts of 195 km/h and dump more than 24.5 cm (10 inches) of rain.
The cyclone was strong enough to have a “high humanitarian impact” on nearly 11 million people, the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (GDACS), run by the United Nations and the European Commission, said.
The evacuation effort was comparable to one preceding Cyclone Phailin, credited with minimizing fatalities to 53. When a huge storm hit the same area 15 years ago, 10,000 people died.
Hudhud was likely to batter a 200-300 km stretch of coastline before losing force inland, forecasters said.
“The landfall process could take up to 10 or 12 hours,” said Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist at US online magazine Slate who has been tracking Hudhud.
“The worst-case scenario would be if Hudhud’s eye makes landfall just south of the city, which would direct the full brunt of the eyewall and maximum storm surge towards Vizag,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
According to the IMD, peak wind speeds will drop to almost 40 miles per hour (60 km/h) by Monday afternoon. Hudhud is expected to continue to dump heavy rains further inland and, eventually, snow when it reaches the Himalayan mountains.