Cyclone Gaja batters east India coastline

At least 13 killed and more 80,000 people forced from their homes as tropical system hits Tamil Nadu.

    Powerful winds felled trees, destroyed homes and forced thousands to flee to safety as Cyclone Gaja barrelled into India's eastern coast on Friday.

    Winds of up to 120 kilometres per hour battered Tamil Nadu state as the storm hit the coast near Nagapattinam early on Friday bringing heavy rains, the India Meteorological Department said. Cuddalore reported 175mm of rain in 48 hours. 

    At least 13 people were killed when the storm made landfall and more than 80,000 residents from half a dozen districts in this southern state were evacuated from their homes.

    The storm has since moved westwards, weakening in the process and is now located in the Arabian Sea, just to the southwest of Kochi off the coast of Kerala.

    The torrential rains caused localised flooding in places and threatened landslides. There were widespread power outages across the region.

    Authorities closed schools and colleges and sent out disaster management teams to move fallen trees and electricity pylons from roads.

    Thousands of emergency workers were on standby along with two naval ships with divers, helicopters and inflatable boats.

    Authorities had been warning fishermen since Sunday not to risk going out to sea.

    Gaja is the second major storm to hit India's east coast in recent weeks. Cyclone Titli battered Odisha state in October, killing at least two people.

    Storms regularly hit southern India between April and December. Last year, Cyclone Ockhi left nearly 250 people dead in the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

    SOURCE: AFP news agency