Chennai/Amrawati: Very severe cyclonic storm 'Vardah', the most intense to have hit the Tamil Nadu capital in two decades, claimed four lives, flattened homes, snapped power, communication lines and threw into disarry rail, road and air traffic as it crossed the coast here, pounding Chennai, Tiruvallur and Kanchipuram with heavy rain and squall.
Thousands of people were evacuated as roaring wind clocking speed of 100 km an hour uprooted trees, tore off hoardings and toppled cars.
Two fishermen were reported missing off the Andhra Pradesh coast in Kakinada and the Coast Guard has deployed ship for search and rescue operations. Though no major loss of life or property has been reported from Andhra Pradesh so far, heavy rains lashed Chittoor and SPS Nellore district, affecting normal life.
Public transport came to a standstill in Chennai with buses and suburban trains suspended and airport shut. Rail, road and air traffic, official sources said, were likely to be restored by Tuesday.
Most commercial establishments downed shutters in Chennai, Tiruvallur and Kancheepuram districts.
"After 1994, this is the first very severe cyclonic storm to hit Chennai coast. The storm has completely crossed the coast as expected (this evening)," a senior Met Official here told PTI.
Civic workers used hand-held battery-operated wood cutters to remove hundreds of uprooted trees lying on the roads.
Personnel from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and SDRF were deployed for rescue efforts as army was put on standby.
A Home Ministry spokesperson said in Delhi that four people were killed in the storm in Tamil Nadu, while six teams of NDRF and four of SDRF were engaged in rescue efforts.
About 8,000 people from low-lying areas in north Chennai, Pazhaverkadu in Tiruvallur district and villages off Mamallapuram, in Kanchipuram district were safely evacuated to 95 relief shelters, officials said.
In Andhra Pradesh, over 9,400 people living along the Bay of Bengal were evacuated to relief camps amid heavy rain.
Also, separate teams of personnel drawn from the health, sanitary and electricity departments were deployed for relief operations in low-lying areas of the three storm-hit Tamil Nadu districts.
The Met department said the intensity of wind and rainfall would recede after Vardah made landfall near Chennai between 2:30 pm and 4:30 pm.
Coastal regions of northern Tamil Nadu — Chennai, Tiruvallur and Kancheepuram — continue to be on high alert even as people in low-lying areas were accommodated in relief centres.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh spoke to Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh to take stock of the situation in the two states and promised all help.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O Panneerselvam and his Andhra Pradesh counterpart N Chandrababu Nadu apprised the Home Minister of the damage caused by the cyclone and steps taken for the rescue and relief.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O Panneerselvam was constantly monitoring the situation as state ministers were visiting relief centres to oversee relief distribution.
The Southern Railway said the cyclone had caused severe impact to its infrastructure and prompted cancellation, diversion and suspension of rail services.
"The intensity of the cyclone has had a severe impact on the infrastructure of Chennai Division, resulting in considerable damage. Overhead electrical lines have been damaged at several locations," Anupam Sharma, Divisional Railway Manager, Southern Railway said.
"As a result of disruption of overhead electrical lines, 16 trains have been held up in Jolarpettai – Chennai Central section and four trains in Villupuram – Chennai Egmore section.
Several Chennai-bound trains have been regulated at various stations of Chennai division, he said.
Although all efforts were being made to restore normalcy as early as possible, full assessment for restoration work was possible only after the cyclone has finally ebbed away, he added.
Urgent steps were being taken to ensure movement of all Mail/Express trains which were held up mid-section. Passengers of all such trains were given maximum facilities so as to obviate the hardships to the extent possible, Sharma said.
Operations at Chennai airport were suspended for the entire night, with nearly 170 services being disrupted through the day even as 10 flights were cancelled.
A total of 44 international and 123 domestic services were affected as they were diverted to nearby airports like Bengaluru even as many stranded passengers were still waiting at domestic and international terminals.
Steps were being taken to distribute food to them, they said.
Departing flights to cities including Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru were cancelled.
Subsequently, there was no possibility of resuming operations, which were earlier announced suspended till 5 PM,
The strong winds damaged seven glass panels and roof at three places at the airport, officials said.
A car was damaged after an uprooted tree fell on it.
In the three affected districts, skeletal bus services were being operated on select routes.
The social media was also abuzz with discussions on 'Vardah', with people sharing information and pictures on the cyclone.
Videos and pictures of damage to property including huts and even a starred hotel in Chennai and uprooting of trees gave a glimpse of the magnitude of the storm.
A report from Amravati in Andhra Pradesh said as many as 18 fishermen from Tamil Nadu, who strayed into the Bay of Bengal yesterday despite warnings, were rescued from near the Sriharikota high altitude range in afternoon.
Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu announced in evening that Andhra Pradesh was ready to extend all necessary help to neighbouring Tamil Nadu that bore the brunt of 'Vardah'.
With forecast of heavy rains for the next 24 hours in Nellore, Chittoor, Prakasam and Anantapuramu districts, the official machinery has been asked to remain on alert, mostly to prevent breach of tanks.
Meanwhile, the regional meteorological department in its latest bulletin said Chennai recorded highest rainfall of six centimetres followed by various places in neighbouring Thiruvallur and Kancheepuram districts.
During the last 24 hours, rainfall occurred at various places over North Coastal Tamil Nadu and at isolated places over remaining Tamil Nadu, coastal Andhra Pradesh and Rayalaseema.
In its forecast for the next 24 hours, the MeT office said rainfall at most places with isolated heavy to very heavy over south coastal Andhra Pradesh, Rayalaseema, North Coastal Tamil Nadu was "very likely".
Heavy to very heavy rainfall (between seven and 19 centimetres were expected) at a few places and extremely heavy rainfall of over 20 cms were 'very likely' over Chennai, Thiruvallur and Kancheepuram districts.
Gale wind speed reaching 100-110kms per hour gusting to 120 kmph was very likely to prevail during the next 12 hours along and off Chennai and Thiruvallur districts of Tamil Nadu, Nellore and adjoining areas of Prakasam districts of Andhra Pradesh.
The tidal waves of about one metre height and above was "very likely" to inundate the low lying areas of Chennai and Thiruvallur districts of Tamil Nadu, it said.
A government release said schools and colleges in Chennai, Kancheepuram and Thiruvallur districts would be remained closed tomorrow as well.
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Updated Date: Dec 12, 2016 22:24:12 IST