By Jessica Phelan
Cyclone Nilam has reached the southeast coast of India, where residents are braced for floods, power cuts and widespread damage.
Nilam made landfall south of Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state, at about 4.30 p.m. local time, NDTV reported.
It was carrying winds of up to 62mph and is said to have uprooted several trees, though no major damage has yet been reported.
Forecasters are warning people to expect a storm surge of up to 1.5 meters, high seas, gale force winds and heavy rainfall for up to 48 hours in Tamil Nadu, neighboring Puducherry and Andhra Pradesh.
India’s Meteorological Department expects “extensive damage” to vulnerable rural homes, as well as the destruction of crops.
Fishermen have been warned to stay out of the sea for at least 24 hours.
An oil tanker was stranded in rough waters in the Bay of Bengal, the Times of India reported, and a lifeboat sent to rescue the crew capsized. Six people have been brought to shore so far; another eight remain at sea.
The area in Nilam’s path houses a nuclear power plant, the Madras Atomic Power Station at Kalpakkam.
The Times of India cites officials as saying that both the site’s reactors were operating safely and extra staff had been deployed to monitor key systems. The plant is designed to withstand winds of up to 160kmph (99mph), the statement said.
The region has been hit by similar disasters in the past, including the 2004 tsunami, which killed more than 12,000 people in Tamil Nadu, and last year’s Cyclone Thane, in which around 30 people died.
This latest storm will test the extra preparation measures put in place by the government at a cost of billions of rupees, the Wall Street Journal said.
Almost 4,000 people had been evacuated from Tamil Nadu by the time the storm hit, NDTV said, and hundreds of emergency shelters set up in Chennai.
Cyclone Nilam has already brought floods to Sri Lanka, which is still feeling the effects of its strong winds and rains, the BBC reported. The worst of the storm did not hit the country directly, however.