Storm Laila wreaks havoc in Andhra, heads to Orissa


- dEsPeraTe cRaNky -

Cyclonic storm Laila late on Thursday caused havoc in coastal Andhra Pradesh, killing 14 people, inundating scores of villages and inflicting massive damage to infrastructure, before heading towards the neighbouring Orissa.

Accompanied by heavy rains, high storm surges and winds with speed of 125 km an hour, the storm hit southern part of Andhra Pradesh snapping mobile links, forcing cancellation of trains and damaging electricity and communication systems.

Officials said huge storm surges were seen in the Bay of Bengal when the cyclone hit the coast about 50 km from Bapatla, a town in southern district of Guntur.

Storm surge of 1.5 to 2 metres inundated the villages along the coast, the officials said.

After the landfall, the cyclone re-emerged in northern Bay of Bengal and headed towards Balasore in neighbouring Orissa.

Weather officials said the course of Laila was not unusual as there were precedents of cyclones re-emerging on sea after landfall.

"We are still assessing the damages caused by the cyclone in coastal Andhra," a top official in the disaster management department said in Hyderabad.

However, massive destruction is not likely as the cyclone had shown signs of weakening before it hit the land.

"The intensity of cyclone Laila has reduced in the last 12 hours and it will further weaken in the next couple of hours. But it will continue to cause heavy rainfall over coastal Andhra Pradesh and Telangana during next 36 hours," Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) director general AK Tyagi told reporters in New Delhi.

The rain and accompanying strong winds battered the six coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh where at least 11 towns and 1,500 villages were plunged into darkness as electricity poles and transformers were uprooted, officials said in Hyderabad.

Officials said high speed winds also uprooted cell phone towers and damaged other communication equipment in Prakasam, Guntur, Nellore, Krishna, and East and West Godavari districts.

Except state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), the networks of all other mobile service providers were not working in the affected districts, causing anxiety to people in other parts of the state and outside.

As electricity supply to 11 towns and nearly 1,500 villages in the six districts was snapped, those having BSNL mobile phone connections also could not be reached after the batteries of their cell-phones ran out as they could not be recharged.

Anticipating damage to landline and mobile communication, district authorities have arranged ham radio network and satellite phones for effective communication during rescue and relief works.

At several places, bus stations, shops and even hospitals are under two feet of water. Road and rail transport was also paralysed, especially in the worst-hit Prakasam and Guntur districts.

Heavy to very heavy rains inundated several parts of the port town of Machilipatnam in Krishna district. Large parts of Ongole town in Prakasam and Bapatla in Guntur districts are also under water, the officials said.

The storm badly hit train services in coastal Andhra Pradesh with as many as 31 passenger trains being cancelled Thursday and Friday and some others diverted.

Several trains are running four to six hours behind schedule due to incessant rains and gales. In Ongole town of Prakasam district, railway tracks were inundated.

Mango, banana and other horticulture crops over thousands of acres in the coastal districts were damaged.

Authorities had alerted people in 777 villages in coastal districts and evacuated over 50,000 people while thousands of others moved to safe places on their own.

Over 500 personnel of the National Disaster Response Force have been deployed with boats and other rescue equipment. Four helicopters have been kept ready for rescue while the state authorities have also sought help from the Indian Navy.

An official statement said army authorities were contacted for deployment of helicopters for rescue and relief operations.

The state government has also made a request for deployment of 100 army personnel in Krishna, West Godavari and East Godavari districts.

Chief Minister K Rosaiah told reporters in Hyderabad that nine helicopters were ready for rescue and relief works in the affected districts.

"We have taken all preventive measures to minimise the loss of lives and property. The official machinery is prepared to deal with any eventuality," he said.