NEW DELHI – A severe cyclone picked up speed off India’s east coast in the Bay of Bengal on Wednesday and was ready to land around midnight local time.
Cyclone Nivar, the fourth named storm in the north Indian Ocean this year, was expected to land near Puducherry, a town about 90 miles south of the manufacturing center of Chennai, Tamil Nadu state.
Both cities were lashed by strong winds and heavy rains. Officials had started evacuating makeshift homes along the coast and sending residents to cyclone shelters and relief camps.
Nivar was expected to land at a speed of around 75 miles per hour, which is a Category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale that brings heavy rainfall, gusts and flooding.
In a tweet on Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he had spoken to top officials in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.
“I pray for the safety and well-being of the people in the affected areas,” said Modi.
Cyclones have become more intense and frequent across South Asia as climate change has resulted in warmer sea temperatures.
Cyclone Amphan, the hardest hit in South Asia in decades, forced the relocation of three million people in India and Bangladesh in May as it washed away bridges and pulled down electrical lines.
In Chennai, TV news showed waves crashing on the rocky coast and people walking through knee-deep water. Several hundred evacuees waited for the storm in emergency shelters in Puducherry, where the streets were essentially deserted except for a few state rescue workers.
With India’s coronavirus caseload over nine million, officials said social distancing and the wearing of masks would be seen in the shelters.
The governments in Puducherry and Tamil Nadu had set up relief camps and central communication centers, established national disaster relief workers and closed the Wednesday and Thursday holidays.
“All the machinery of government is dedicated to this task,” said Puducherry’s Finance Minister MOHF Shahjahan.
“We are fully prepared,” said Mr. Shahjahan. “Now everything depends on how nature reacts.”