KOLKATA, Sep 27 (AFP) - Two fishermen were reported dead after a cyclone packing strong winds and rains barrelled into India's east coast late on Sunday (Sep 26), forcing the evacuation of more than 200,000 people in three states to shelters.
Cyclones are a regular menace in the northern Indian Ocean but many scientists say they are becoming more frequent and severe as climate change warms sea temperatures.
Cyclone Gulab made landfall between the coastal states of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh just after 6pm local time, bearing gusts of up to 95 kilometres per hour, the state-run India Meteorological Department said.
A rescue operation was launched after a fishing boat travelling from Odisha to Andhra Pradesh capsized during the storm, local media reported.
Three fishermen swam to shore, two others died and a sixth person from the vessel were still missing, the Indian Express added.
There were also early reports of trees being uprooted as the cyclone hit a coastal district in Andhra Pradesh.
The weather bureau added that Gulab was forecast to gradually weaken in the next few hours.
Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal had ordered tens of thousands of people to move to shelters, after forecasts that the storm from the Bay of Bengal would bring "strong winds and very heavy (and) extremely heavy rainfall".
In Andhra Pradesh, some 110,000 families were moved from low-lying areas to temporary relief shelters.
Odisha Special Relief Commissioner PK Jena said seven districts in the state were on high alert.
Evacuations were carried out amid concerns that at least one coastal district would be badly hit, Jena added in a statement.
In West Bengal north of Odisha, authorities, fearful that Gulab could wreak havoc despite being unlikely to hit the state directly, said they still carried out evacuations.
"We have so far evacuated more than 20,000 people to schools (and) government offices, which have been turned to cyclone shelters," Bankim Hazra, a state minister responsible for the low-lying areas, told AFP earlier Sunday.
In May, more than a million people were evacuated from their homes along India's east coast before the area was battered by Cyclone Yaas, with winds gusting up to 155 kilometres an hour - equivalent to a category two hurricane.
At least 20 people were killed and tens of thousands were displaced in that storm, which caused widespread damage worth more than US$2 billion in Odisha and West Bengal states and in neighbouring Bangladesh.