Hudhud lashes India, Vongfong pounds Japan, Atlantic storms strengthen

Powerful Cyclone Hudhud pounded a large swath of India's eastern seaboard with heavy rain and strong winds today, killing at least eight people and causing major damage to buildings and crops, one of two storms to lash Asia as thousands in Bermuda were hit by Hurricane Fay and the Caribbean braced for Tropical Storm Gonzalo.

Hundreds of thousands evacuated in India, Japan, power knocked out in Bermuda

Waves crash as Typhoon Vongfong approaches Japan's main islands, while surfers try to ride a wave at Eguchihama Beach in Hioki, Kagoshima prefecture on Oct. 12, 2014. (Kyodo/Reuters)

A powerful cyclone that slammed into India's eastern seaboard weakened as it moved inland Monday, leaving at least eight dead in its wake. Rescue workers readied helicopters, aircraft and ships to carry out relief operations once daylight made clear the extent of damage.

In another storm lashing Asia, Typhoon Vongfong was downgraded to tropical storm as it hit the Japanese island of Kyushu after battering the southern island of Okinawa. At least 37 people were injured, and authorities advised 150,000 people to evacuate. Train service and flights were disrupted in Kyushu and the neighbouring island of Shikoku.

Japan's Meteorological Agency said the storm could reach the Tokyo area by early Tuesday.

In India, Cyclone Hudhud moved 150 kilometres north-northwest of the city of Visakhapatnam, where it made landfall Sunday. Weather forecasters downgraded it to a tropical depression, with wind speeds of up to 70 kilometres per hour, considerably slower than on Sunday.

The death toll rose to eight, five in Andra Pradesh state and three in Orissa state, mostly caused by wall collapses and falling trees, Indian officials said.

It was still raining across the region, heavily in some places. Authorities plan to make an assessment of the damage caused as the day breaks and then decide on the contours of the relief operations.

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      Experts said the storm was likely to have caused widespread destruction along nearly 300 kilometres of India's east coast. Communication services and electricity were cut off in some areas.

      At least 400,000 people were evacuated from the coastal areas of Andhra Pradesh and Orissa states ahead of the storm, and hundreds of shelters were set up to house them. Visakhapatnam, one of the largest cities in southern India and a major naval base, was bearing the brunt of the cyclone's fury.

      Television footage from Visakhapatnam showed downed electrical poles, uprooted trees and massive debris strewn in the streets. Electricity lines were disconnected in parts of Andhra Pradesh to avoid electrocutions, said Arvind Kumar, a relief and rescue official.

      Andhra Pradesh's chief minister, N. Chandrababu Naidu, said Sundaythat while the early evacuations had saved lives, the cyclone caused "huge damage" to buildings and crops in the coastal districts.

      Hurricane Fay gained force Sunday over the open Atlantic after knocking out power to thousands of people in Bermuda as a strong tropical storm, just as a new storm that threatened to become a hurricane in a couple of days raced toward the eastern rim of the Caribbean.

      Gonzalo aimed towards Puerto Rico

      By late Sunday afternoon, Tropical Storm Gonzalo was centred roughly 180 kilometres east of the French Caribbean dependency of Guadeloupe and was expected to pick up strength as it moved toward the U.S. island of Puerto Rico, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. It is the seventh named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season.

      Tracking west at about 17 km/h, forecasters said an accelerating Gonzalo could reach hurricane strength after it crosses Puerto Rico on Tuesday. After tracking south to north across the territory of about 3.6 million people, forecasters expect Gonzalo to curve over the open Atlantic and stay away from the U.S. East Coast.

      Hurricane or tropical storm watches and warnings were issued for a number of Caribbean locales, including Guadeloupe, the Dutch Caribbean territory of St. Maarten, as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It was expected to approach the U.S. Caribbean islands late Monday.

      As the wind began to pick up on Sunday, Caribbean residents wary of a possible blow from the approaching tropical storm stocked up on fuel and groceries and pulled boats ashore or moored them at marinas.

      "We're being told that it's coming this way so people are trying to find safe havens for their boats. Hopefully, all we'll get is some rain but you have to be prepared as best as you can," said Jane Wherren, operations director at Crown Bay Marina, which caters to mega yachts and other pleasure watercraft up to 60 metres ) in length.

      Cruise ships forced to adjust

      From Puerto Rico, the U.S. Coast Guard warned people to avoid the ocean and stay away from shoreline rocks starting noon Monday. "Tropical Storm Gonzalo is developing quickly," said Guard Capt. Robert Warren.

      Rain-swollen Gonzalo was expected to move through parts of the Leeward Islands by early Monday, producing 10 centimetres to 20 centimetres of rain, with some areas potentially getting soaked with as much as 30 centimetres.

      The storm forecasts prompted at least one cruise ship company to tweak itineraries. Carnival Cruise Lines' Breeze ship cancelled a visit in La Romana, Dominican Republic, and its Liberty and Conquest vessels are switching to western Caribbean ports to avoid the storm, according to spokesman Vance Gulliksen.

      Hundreds of kilometres north of the Caribbean, Fay strengthened into a hurricane as it tracked away from Bermuda, spinning over the open Atlantic after lashing the British chain with heavy rain and gusting winds. There were no immediate reports of injuries as Bermuda authorities assessed damage Sunday and discontinued storm watches and warnings.

      Fay, which had maximum sustained winds of 120 km/h and stronger gusts, disrupted power for more than 27,000 customers of the Bermuda Electric Light Company. The utility is the sole supplier of electricity for the territory of roughly 65,000 inhabitants.
      Cyclone Hudhud blasted India's eastern seaboard on Sunday with gusts of up to 195 km/h. (REUTERS)

      As a tropical storm, Fay downed trees and utility poles and several roads were blocked across the tiny archipelago, which has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world and enforces strict building codes to ensure that homes can withstand intense weather. Bermuda authorities urged residents not to venture out on the roads.

      "The safest thing is for people to remain at home and allow the important work that follows this kind of storm to be done safely," Acting Premier Trevor Moniz said.

      By late Sunday afternoon, Fay reached hurricane status and was centred about 465 kilometres northeast of Bermuda and moving east-northeast at almost 41 km/h. The Hurricane Center said it was expected to weaken back to a tropical storm late Sunday.

      The storm system's bands were expected to dump as much as 5 inches 13 centimetres of rain during its passage over Bermuda. Forecasters said a cold front was likely to absorb Fay on Monday. There were no hazards affecting land.


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