MANDVI, (India): Howling gales and crashing waves pounded the coastline of India and Pakistan on Thursday as Cyclone Biparjoy made landfall, with more than 175,000 people fleeing the storm’s predicted path.
Indian forecasters have warned that Biparjoy, whose name means “disaster” in Bengali, was likely to devastate homes and tear down power lines as it barrels through the western state of Gujarat.
The storm hit the coastline with winds of 125 kilometres per hour (78 miles per hour) and gusts of up to 140 km/h at 6:30 pm (1330 GMT), the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) said in a bulletin.
It was forecast to maintain its current strength through to midnight, with a two-metre (six-foot) tidal surge battering low lying areas until the eye of the storm crossed the coast.
The US Joint Typhoon Warning Center said Biparjoy would continue moving overnight into Pakistan’s Sindh province, home to the port megacity of Karachi.
Jayantha Bhai, a 35-year-old shopkeeper in the Gujarat beach town of Mandvi, told AFP before the storm hit that he was afraid for his family’s safety.
“This is the first time I’ve experienced a cyclone,” said Bhai, a father of three boys aged between eight and 15, who planned to wait out the cyclone in his small concrete home behind the shop.
“This is nature, we can’t fight with it,” he said, as driving rain lashed his home.
Low-lying roads started to flood on Thursday afternoon after hours of rain.
Gusting winds blew sheets of water that reduced visibility with a dull grey mist.
Almost all stores were closed, and shoppers had crowded the few that remained open to buy last-minute food and water supplies.
India’s meteorologists warned of the potential for “widespread damage”, including the destruction of crops, “bending or uprooting of power and communication poles” and disruption of railways and roads.
The Gujarat state government said 94,000 people had relocated from coastal and low-lying areas to shelter.
Pakistan’s climate change minister Sherry Rehman said around 82,000 people had been moved from southeastern coastal areas in the face of “a cyclone the likes of which Pakistan has never experienced.”
Many of the areas affected are the same inundated in last year’s catastrophic monsoon floods, which put a third of Pakistan under water, damaging two million homes and killing more than 1,700 people.
“These are all results of climate change,” Rehman told reporters.
Storm surges were expected to reach four metres (13 feet), with flooding possible in Karachi — home to about 20 million people.
In the largely abandoned fishing town of Zero Point — so-called because of its proximity to the Indian border — 20-year-old Jaffer Ali said residents “are afraid of what is coming.”
The shanty settlement of hundreds of thatched homes was populated mainly by stray cats and wild dogs, with at least a hundred idle fishing boats tethered to a long pier running out to the ocean.
“Our worst fears are that it will come in the evening or later tonight,” Ali told AFP.
About 200 people huddled together in a single-storey health centre in Kutch district, a short distance from India’s Jakhau port, late on Wednesday.