KOLKATA: Normally bustling Kolkata was eerily quiet late Friday as one of the biggest cyclones to hit India in years bore down on the major city after leaving a trail of deadly destruction in its wake.
Cyclone Fani ("Snake" in Bengali) slammed into the eastern state of Odisha earlier in the day, reportedly killing at least eight people and one in Bangladesh, where it was headed after Kolkata, officials said.
With effects felt as far away as Mount Everest, winds gusting up to 200 kilometres (125 miles) per hour sent coconut trees flying and cut off power, water and telecommunications.
Authorities in Odisha, where 10,000 people perished in a 1999 cyclone, had evacuated more than a million people as they worried about a possible 1.5-metre (five-foot) storm surge sweeping far inland.
Eight people were killed, the Press Trust of India (PTI) reported, including a teenage boy, a woman hit by concrete debris and an elderly woman who suffered a heart attack in one of several thousand shelters packed with families.
Odisha disaster management official Prabhat Mahapatra said there were not yet any confirmed casualty figures.
"Around 160 people were injured in Puri alone. Our relief work is ongoing," he told AFP.
Authorities in Bangladesh, next in Fani's trajectory, said a woman was killed by a tree, and that 14 villages were inundated as a tidal surge breached flood dams. Some 400,000 people have been taken to shelters, officials told AFP.
Hundreds of thousands more people in India's West Bengal state have also been given orders to flee. Local airports have been shut, with train lines and roads closed.
"It just went dark and then suddenly we could barely see five metres in front of us," said one Puri resident. "There were the roadside food carts, store signs all flying by in the air," the man told AFP from a hotel where he took shelter. "The wind is deafening."
Another witness said he saw a small car being pushed along a street by the winds and then turned over.
"We have been unable to make contact with our team in Puri for some time now to get the latest update about the situation there," H.R. Biswas, Indian Meteorology Department director in state capital Bhubaneswar, said.
Fani was expected to barrel northeastwards into West Bengal state and towards Bangladesh, on a trajectory that will take it over the homes of 100 million people.
Authorities in West Bengal have started evacuating thousands of people from coastal villages, disaster management minister Javed Ahmed Khan said.
"We are bracing for the worst on Saturday when the cyclone is forecast to batter the city of Kolkata," said Bhattacharya.
"We are monitoring the situation 24x7 and doing all it takes... Be alert, take care and stay safe for the next two days," West Bengal's chief minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted.
Meteorologists have warned of the "total destruction" of thatched houses, the uprooting of power and communication poles, the "flooding of escape routes" and damage to crops in some areas.
Some 3,000 shelters in schools and government buildings were set up to accommodate more than a million people in Odisha, with families including women and babies huddled on the floor.
Ports have been closed but the Indian Navy has sent six warships to the region while India's biggest oil and gas producer ONGC evacuated almost 500 workers from offshore rigs.
Measures were also being taken to protect the 850-year-old Jagannath temple in Puri, a Hindu holy town normally thronging with pilgrims.
AFP correspondents in the resort said it was a near ghost town with trees already torn down and water levels rising even before Fani's awesome arrival.
Electricity and water supplies were already cut for much of the city of 200,000 people. Metal shutters covered store fronts and sand blew up the streets from the nearby beach.
These include 140 Mail/Express trains and 83 passenger trains.
"All trains cancelled in Bhadrak-Vizianagaram section (along Odisha coastline) of Kolkata-Chennai route till May 4 afternoon in view of cyclone Fani," a railway spokesperson said.
Railways has also pressed into service three special trains to ferry passengers. The 'extremely severe' cyclonic storm is likely to affect Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal.
While nine trains have been diverted, four others have also been short-terminated, the spokesperson said.
Only a few police vehicles and tractors trying to pull trees or push aside collapsed walls could be seen.
Media reports said hundreds of trees were uprooted at the nearby Chilika Lake just south of Puri in the first violent winds.
"We will just stay for the day until the cyclone has passed. We are not scared but we feel safer here," said Krishna Chandra Sahu, 43, sheltering with seven members of his family in a hotel.
According to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the revised closure timings for the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport will now begin at 3.00 pm till 8.00 am on Saturday.
On Thursday, the DGCA had issued an advance order to cancel all flights to and from Kolkata between 9.30 pm on Friday and 6 pm on Saturday to ensure safety of operations.
Bangladesh on alert
In Bangladesh, disaster management chief Mohammad Hashim said that more than 4,000 cyclone shelters have been opened. Inland water transport activities were suspended.
India's east coast is vulnerable to destructive storms.
In 2017 Cyclone Ockhi left nearly 250 people dead and more than 600 missing in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
The 1999 storm wreaked $4.5 billion worth of damage, as well as taking 10,000 lives.