Cyclone Nilam Hits the Southeastern Coast of India

The storm is already causing flooding along the country's coastline.

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Onlookers gather on the beach after the oil tanker ship Pratibha Cauvery ran aground off the coast in Chennai on October 31, 2012.

Cyclone Nilam has struck the southeastern coast of India, bringing with it severe flooding and winds almost as strong as superstorm Sandy.

Nilam, which formed over the Bay of Bengal, looked to be headed straight for the Sri Lankan coast.  Fortunately, Sri Lanka, which is still re-building after a decades-long war, avoided the worst of the storm. Having only closed the massive Menik Farm displacement camp one month ago, the last thing this Southern Asian country needed was another humanitarian disaster.

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The force of the cyclone could be seen even before it hit Indian coastlines. Its powerful winds forced an oil tanker to run aground, writes the Times of India, leaving 22 crew members floating in a lifeboat.

The storm then surged towards the Southeastern coast of India, placing the states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu on high alert. More than 5,000 people were subsequently evacuated from their homes in Chennai, the capital city of Tamil Nadu. By early evening (IST) Nilam had struck the port of Mahabalipuram and is now expected to spread along the coast through the night.

Cyclone Nilam comes only a year after Cyclone Thane, which last December killed 47 people in India. This massive storm, which hit Tamil Nadu destroying houses and crops, brought gale force winds of up to 135 kmph and tidal surges of nearly 1.5 metres, or about 5 feet. Although the cyclone currently bashing the coastal areas of southern India is not as strong as Thane, it still brings fears of human displacement and infrastructure damage. Extra precautions are being taken this time to ensure people’s safety.

“Tamil Nadu has a long coastline and the state has witnessed many storms over the years,” explained M. Jayaraman, joint commissioner for revenue administration for Tamil Nadu to the New York Times. “We have standard operating procedures already in force to tackle natural calamities and have also taken extra efforts this time.”

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The Indian government has issued a weather bulletin warning coastal areas in the South of the country to prepare themselves for strong winds through the night with extremely heavy rainfall possible in certain areas. A storm surge is expected in the low-lying areas of Chennai. The government is also warning of damage to power and communication lines and to standing crops. Coastal fishermen have been advised not to venture out to sea for the next 24 hours.