Indian authorities have moved more than 200,000 people from their homes in three coastal states as a tropical cyclone expected to batter the country's east coast late on Sunday made landfall, officials said.
Cyclone Gulab – which means rose in English – arrived early on Sunday evening between the coastal regions of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh states, the state weather forecaster India Meteorological Department said.
Gulab will bring gusts of wind of up to 95 kilometres an hour, forecasters said.
It is the second tropical storm to hit India in less than four months. Cyclone Yaas ravaged the country in May, killing at least 20 people and leaving thousands homeless.
The latest cyclone is currently brewing in the Bay of Bengal, off India’s east coast, and will bring strong winds and torrential downpours across several states in eastern and central India.
Forecasters said isolated places in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Telangana can expect up to 200 millimetres of rain on Monday, causing extensive flooding, mainly in low-lying areas near the coast.
India’s Cyclone Warning Centre issued a “red warning” – the highest level of weather advisory – over Odisha and coastal Andhra Pradesh.
Authorities in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, which will bear the brunt of the storm, ordered that more than 195,000 people across 13 coastal districts be moved.
Pradeep Kumar Jena, the special relief commissioner in Odisha, said 10,000 people were moved early on Sunday and more than 100,000 were being taken to safer places.
“We will keep 60-70 people in [each] shelter due to Covid-19. They have been given masks, sanitisers and liquid soap. They have also been tested for Covid,” Mr Jena told The National.
He said about 500 pregnant woman were shifted to hospitals before the tropical storm arrived.
The state government has deployed more than 5,000 personnel for rescue and relief operations, along with workers from the electricity department and road clearance machines.
Odisha state’s Ganjam district was bracing for severe damage during the midnight landfall, Mr Jena said.
Officials in Andhra Pradesh said 85,000 people were being shifted from the low-lying coastal areas to temporary shelters.
Dozens of state and federal disaster management teams were sent to the region, warning people to stay away from the coastline.
Authorities have also moved 20,000 people from three coastal districts of West Bengal state as a precautionary measure, with the weather office warning that the region will receive heavy rainfall on Tuesday and Wednesday.
West Bengal and Odisha were battered by Cyclone Yaas in May. It caused more than $2.75 billion worth of damage in these states and neighbouring Bangladesh.
The weather office said Gulab is less intense than Yaas, which blew winds of up to 155kph – equivalent to a category two hurricane – and destroyed homes and power infrastructure.
Yaas hit India less than two weeks after Cyclone Tauktae battered the country's western Gujarat coast, killing 250 people.
Cyclones are common across India’s 7,500km coastline, especially at the northern Indian Ocean during October, when the annual monsoon season withdraws from the Indian subcontinent.
But they are rare during September when sea temperatures remain moderate.
Experts said untimely cyclones like Gulab are a direct result of climate change that is causing sea temperatures to rise.
“We can attribute it to climate change or other ecological disorders, as such, cyclones are forming in unconventional ways,” Mahesh Palawat, vice president of private weather forecaster Skymet Weather, told The National.
He said India's east coast was prone to cyclones but climate change is affecting the country’s west coast as well.
“Frequency and intensity are increasing year by year. In the past four to five years we have seen cyclones forming in equal numbers in the Arabian Sea also,” Mr Palawat said.
“Earlier, the formation of cyclones was more in the Bay of Bengal.”