VISAKHAPATNAM/HYDERABAD: After ducking the devastating effects of the 2004 tsunami and the 1977 cyclone, the “City of Destiny” sadly had its date with disaster on Sunday when a very severe cyclonic storm Hudhud tore through the city, unleashing widespread destruction and bringing the otherwise bustling city of nearly 20 lakh people to a grinding halt.
The cyclone, that made landfall in the Port City around noon, sent hoardings and tin roofs flying like saucers, shattered windows leaving the streets littered with glass shreds, toppled over statues of leaders in many places as well as landmarks like the replica of the navy airplane on RK Beach. Scores of electricity and telephone poles were knocked down and thousands of trees uprooted as strong gales accompanied by heavy rainfall lashed the city right from Sunday morning to evening.
Essential services were disrupted and people remained indoors to escape nature’s fury.
With winds touching a speed of around 180-195kmph during landfall, waves as high as two to three metres surged along the Beach Road. In fact, such was Hudhud’s fury that even chief minister dared not enter the Port City and had to it cool his heels at Gannavaram awaiting the clearance of roadblocks like uprooted trees and collapsed walls on NH-16 to proceed to Vizag.
Hudhud also left former ambassador to Philippines, Amit Dasgupta, who presently resides in Vizag and has seen much worse tropical storms in Manila, rattled. “Cyclone Hudhud – far worse than anything I have experienced in Manila. Much of the garden is airborne and trees broken in half like match-sticks!” Dasgupta posted on his Facebook wall early on Sunday morning, before his network crashed.
In fact, it is perhaps for the first time since the India Meteorological Department (IMD) was set up in 1891, that the Port City has found itself in the eye of such a storm. Even Phailin whizzed past the city on October 12 last year without so much as a whimper. And while Met experts had been confident of the city’s unique topography protecting it yet again, Hudhud’s ferocity left them flummoxed.
The destruction started hours before the landfall forcing denizens to remain indoors. Many of them could not come out for hours. Vizag being a low-lying area flooding is a distinct possibility. “It is impossible to negotiate the city with uprooted tress and telephone cables blocking ways. It is very scary,” said K S Narayana, a builder.
This October 12, 2014, satellite image from Nasa shows Cyclone Hudhud over India’s eastern coast.
YK Reddy, director in charge, IMD Hyderabad, said: “Though Vizag does not witness too many cyclones, no topography can actually protect a place from cyclone. Even Vizag has only hills and hillocks, which can only protect it from a storm surge but not a cyclone with a height of roughly 10km. It may have been the local atmospheric conditions that attracted the cyclone towards Vizag.”
With the discom Eastern Power Distribution Corporation of AP Ltd switching off power in the wee hours of Sunday as a precautionary measure, the city was plunged into darkness and by afternoon telecom links snapped as networks crashed and landline and cell phones blipped off.
All flights in and out of Vizag were suspended on Sunday due to the hostile weather conditions that reduced visibility to near zero and destroyed the innards of the airport. Several trains passing through the city too were cancelled and road transport too came to a grinding halt as the National Highway-16 connecting Chennai to Kolkata and passing through the Port City was shut down from Saturday evening and people were advised not to venture out.
Operations at the crucial Eastern Naval Command were hit, with damage to the naval base, naval air base INS Dega and residential quarters at Dolphin Nose hill. According to naval officials, 12 ships were on stand-by for evacuation and relief operations. Operations at ports like Visakhapatnam Port, Gangavaram Port and PSUs like Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Ltd and Hindustan Shipyard Ltd too were suspended and property in these places damaged by the ravaging storm.
“This is the biggest disaster to have ever hit Vizag. The blasting sounds of the wind are very scary. God knows how we will survive this,” said Kala Kumari, her voice shaking tremulously before the eye of the storm hit the city.
“Torrential rain has been pounding the city right from wee hours of Sunday. The ferocious winds have blown off all the windows of my house. I felt my building shaking a couple of times,” a panicked M Kumar, who lives on the beach off Yendada, told TOI just before his cellphone conked out in the morning.
“The situation in Vizag is very serious. Telecommunications have been completely disrupted, impacting even our control room. Panicked people are calling up to find out if they have to be evacuated,” K Hymavathi, AP special commissioner for disaster management, told reporters.
While officials were unable to come out with a picture of the damages in the Port City, they said it would take weeks for Andhra Pradesh’s largest city to get back on its feet after the unprecedented blow.
Hudhud batters AP, Odisha coasts; 6 die
Cyclone Hudhud pounded the coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha with heavy rain and winds of almost 200 kmph on Sunday, leaving six people dead and a trail of devastation.
Visakhapatnam—where the very severe storm made landfall—bore the brunt.
A little over 4 lakh people—about 2.50 lakh in four districts of Andhra Pradesh and 1.56 lakh in nine districts of Odisha—were evacuated, and more will be shifted depending on water levels, officials said.
Cyclone Hudhud lost its intensity by late evening, its speed limited to 80-90 kmph, and it changed from a very severe cyclonic storm to severe storm, the IMD said on Sunday night.
The high-velocity winds battered the Visakhapatnam—home to a naval base, Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and East Godavari districts, throwing normal life out of gear after the cyclone made landfall shortly before noon, downing power and communication lines and closing roads and railways.
The port city of Visakhapatnam has been without power supply since Saturday night, and communication systems have collapsed at many places.
As per preliminary assessment, the death toll was six—three each in Andhra Pradesh and Odisha—an official statement said in Delhi, adding that communication services and power and electricity have been “considerably damaged” in the affected districts.
The Odisha government, meanwhile, said there had been no major damage in the state so far, though some southern districts experienced winds at a speed of 70-80 km per hour.
However, Odisha Special Relief Commissioner P K Mohapatra said: “Except the uprooting of trees and light posts in the Patangi area of Koraput district, we have not received reports of any major damage so far because of Hudhud. The cyclone is expected to bypass the Odisha border and cross over to neighbouring Chhattisgarh by 9:30-10 pm on Sunday. It will weaken by that time, with wind speeds of only around 50-60 km per hour, according to the met department.”
High-speed winds uprooted trees and blew away roofs of thatched huts and sheds as well as hoardings in Andhra Pradesh.
Transport services came to a halt in the region. Dozens of trains were either cancelled or diverted and flights in the region were also disrupted.
The Railways cancelled 58 trains and diverted 50 others on the Visakhapatnam route, officials said.
Andhra Pradesh’s Revenue (Disaster Management) Department said the cyclone left railway lines in Visakhapatnam badly damaged, besides causing “damage” to the airport there. A total of 2,48,004 people were “affected” by Hudhud, which also damaged 70 houses and left 34 animals dead, it said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh separately called Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu and assured him of full assistance.
Naidu said the communication system had collapsed in the region and urged telecom service providers to restore it immediately.
Twenty-four National Disaster Response Force teams (each comprising 45-50 members) are on duty on the Andhra coast, including three on the way.
Six helicopters have been positioned in the Naval base here. Two Army columns are also stationed in Visakhapatnam and at Srikakulam with power boats and other equipment for rescue and relief operations.
In addition, 56 boats and launches have been deployed.