By S. Murari
CHENNAI (AlertNet) - Lashing rains and gale force winds bore down on India's southeastern coast on Friday, disrupting power supplies and communication lines as Cyclone Thane landfall near the industrial city of Chennai, officials and witnesses said.
Packing wind speeds of up to 125 kmph (77 mph) and accompanied by tidal surges of up to 1.5 meters (5 feet), Thane hit Tamil Nadu state, close to the former French colonial town of Pondicherry on Friday morning, as coastal villagers moved to relief shelters.
"Under the influence of this system, rainfall at most places with heavy to very heavy falls at a few places and isolated extremely heavy falls would occur," said the Indian Meteorological Department in its latest bulletin.
"Gale winds speed reaching 120-130 kmph gusting to 145 kmph is likely along and off north Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry coasts during next 3 hours and then decrease gradually."
Witnesses in Chennai and Pondicherry said trees had been toppled and there had been power outages throughout the night and disruptions in phone and Internet services in some areas.
There have been no reports of casualties.
Hundreds of people from fishing communities along north Tamil Nadu's coast, and neighboring Andhra Pradesh state, have moved to schools set up as relief centers until the weather system passes.
India's cyclone season generally lasts from April to December with severe storms often causing dozens of deaths, evacuations of tens of thousands of people from low-lying villages and widespread crop and property damage.
In 1999, a "super-cyclone" battered the coast of the eastern state of Orissa for 30 hours with wind speeds reaching 300 kph (186 mph). It killed 10,000 people.
Indian Meteorological Department: http://www.imd.gov.in/section/nhac/dynamic/cyclone_fdp/CycloneFDP.htm
(AlertNet is a global humanitarian news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation. Visit www.trust.org/alertnet)
(Writing by Nita Bhalla)