Cyclone Hudhud has hit the eastern Indian coast, causing extensive damage and prompting the evacuation of some 300,000 people.
The cyclone, classed “very severe” and bringing winds of up to 120mph, is expected to make landfall soon near the city of Visakhapatnam.
Hundreds of trees have been uprooted and power lines brought down in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa states.
Two people have so far been reported killed in Andhra Pradesh.
It is feared a storm surge of up to two meters could inundate low-lying areas and hundreds of relief centers have been opened in the two states. Disaster relief teams have also been sent.
The authorities say the next five to six hours will be crucial.
The strength of the cyclone has been revised upwards since October 10, and the Indian Navy is on standby to assist.
The two deaths occurred in separate incidents in Andhra Pradesh’s Srikakulam district, the state’s disaster management department said.
Hundreds of thousands of people are evacuated as Cyclone Hudhud pounds the eastern Indian coast
One was killed by a falling wall and the other by a tree.
The streets of Visakhapatnam, one of the largest cities in south-east India and home to a major naval base, remain largely deserted.
K Hymavathi, the special commissioner for disaster management for Andhra Pradesh state, said:
“Hundreds of trees have been uprooted and power lines knocked down.”
“The situation is very severe. The national highway in the region has been shut.”
In its latest report, the India Meteorological Department said sea conditions would become “phenomenal” off the north Andhra Pradesh and south Orissa coasts.
It also warned that a storm surge of up to two metres would “inundate low-lying areas of Visakhapatnam, Vijayanagaram and Srikakulam”.
Pradeep Kumar Mohapatra, a special relief commissioner, said that authorities were ready.
“The administration is fully geared,” he said. “The collectors [senior government officials] have been given total clearance to take up any evacuation wherever necessary for vulnerable areas which are likely to be inundated.”
A super-cyclone in 1999 killed more than 10,000 people in Orissa.
India’s eastern coast and Bangladesh are routinely hit by cyclonic storms between April and November which cause deaths and widespread damage to property.
[youtube h5V0BGTubEM 650]
Cyclone Phailin has hammered eastern India overnight, bringing down power lines, ripping up trees and sending seawater surging inland.
Almost 500,000 people have been evacuated from the path of Cyclone Phailin in Orissa state and neighboring Andhra Pradesh.
The massive storm made landfall on Saturday, packing winds of up to 125 mph.
Five deaths have so far been linked to the cyclone.
In 1999 a cyclone killed more than 10,000 people in Orissa, although authorities say they are better prepared this time.
At daybreak on Sunday there was an anxious wait to see the extent of the damage.
Communications are down in many areas with road and rail links closed, making an assessment even more difficult.
The Times of India reported that a storm surge more than 9 ft high had inundated areas of Ganjam, Khurda, Puri and Jagatsinghpur districts of Orissa and the Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh.
Cyclone Phailin has hammered eastern India overnight, bringing down power lines, ripping up trees and sending seawater surging inland
In the Orissa state capital of Bhubaneshwar, government workers and volunteers were assembling hundreds of thousands of food packages for relief camps.
Bhubaneswar shop owner Susil Kumar Singh was one of only a few traders keeping his store open.
“Everyone’s in trouble so I’ve kept my shop open to help them,” he told AFP news agency. “Right now, there’s no drinking water and trees are falling down all around.”
Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik appealed for calm.
“I request everyone to not panic,” he said. “Please assist the government. Everyone from the villages to the state headquarters has been put on alert.”
The Indian Army’s National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) said 1,200 troops had been sent to Orissa and 500 to Andhra Pradesh.
“As soon as the fury of the cyclone abates our boys will start their work,” NDRF director general Krishna Chaudhary told reporters. “The teams have medical first responders (for first aid) and heavy cutting equipment. In the case of cyclones there is a likelihood of collapsed buildings.”
Up to 10in of rain is predicted for Orissa and the north coast of Andhra Pradesh throughout Sunday and Monday, forecasters said.
In the coastal town of Gopalpur, hundreds of terrified residents spent the night huddled in shelters, schools and public buildings.
Witnesses reported seeing shards of glass and asbestos sheets flying through the air as the cyclone struck.
Store signs and other debris were being pitched high in the air by storm gusts and elaborate decorations for a major Hindu festival were strewn over the main road.
Officials had earlier said that no-one would be allowed to stay in mud and thatched houses along the coast of Orissa and Andhra Pradesh states, but some residents said they wanted to stay put.
“Many people refused to move, had to be convinced, and at times the police had to forcefully move them to safe places,” said Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde.