Cyclone kills at least 3 in Sri Lanka, nears India

MADRAS, India, Reuters

A cyclone that killed at least three people in Sri Lanka and forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes was bearing down on the southern tip of India on Wednesday, weather officials said.

But the storm had lost some of its strength since crossing Sri Lanka and damage was not expected to be heavy, government officials in the southern state of Tamil Nadu said.

“We’re totally geared to meet any situation this time and so we do not expect too much damage,” a government official told Reuters by phone from Tuticorin, some 575 km (360 miles) south of the state capital, Madras.

Tropical cyclone 04B, packing winds of 150 km per hour (90 miles per hour) was about 140 km east-southeast of the southern Indian port of Tuticorin in the Gulf of Mannar, weather officials said.

“The system is expected to move in a west-northwesterly direction and cross the coast between Pamban and Tuticorin,” Area Cyclone Warning Center director, S.K. Subramanian, told Reuters.

“It is moving westward very slowly.”

But there was a fear the storm could again pick up energy in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mannar.

Subramanian originally said, the storm was due to hit land by 12:00 p.m. (0630 GMT), but it was still offshore one-and-a-half hours later. He said that when it hits, it would be accompanied by waves of up to two meters (6.6 feet).

“Severe storm danger signals have already been hoisted at Tuticorin port, and local officials have taken all precautions by evacuating people from low-lying areas in the coastal districts,” he said. Fishermen have been told not to put out to sea, officials added.

The cyclone cut a swath of destruction across north Sri Lanka on Tuesday, leaving more than 60 thousand families marooned, homeless or displaced. At least three people were killed, state radio said.

The heavy rains caused dozens of rivers to burst their banks, flooding roads and crops, and the high winds snapped power and communication lines.

Details of the destruction were still sketchy as the brunt of the cyclone hit areas controlled by Tamil Tiger rebels.

Last month, a cyclone ripped across Tamil Nadu, uprooting trees and blowing off roofs. Seven people died.

Some 8,495 people were killed and 13 million left homeless when a severe cyclone, accompanied by 20-foot tidal waves, devastated the eastern state of Orissa last year.