The met said Vardah, which is currently a very severe cyclonic storm, will weaken, but only to a severe cyclonic storm. Photograph:( AFP )
A cyclone barrelled into the south-east coast of India on Monday, killing at least ten people and bringing down trees and power lines as authorities moved tens of thousands of people from low-lying areas.
Cyclone Vardah moved west over the Bay of Bengal before hitting Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu, as well as neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, the Indian Meteorological Department said, describing it as a "very severe storm".
Strong winds of up to 140 kph (87 mph) battered the densely populated coast, uprooting trees and bringing down electricity pylons.
Flights at Chennai airport were cancelled, railway services in the area suspended and schools and colleges were closed.
Chennai is home to Indian operations of major auto firms such as Ford Motor Daimler Hyundai and Nissan.
Vardah is forecast to pass over Chennai over the next few hours, drenching the city in heavy rain before easing in intensity, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said.
"Winds to pick up after current lull period. Everyone to not venture out," the NDMA said on Twitter, adding that two people had been killed and 24 homes damaged.
"Expect very heavy rainfall after few hours. To become better once system crosses completely."
A "storm surge" will be about one metre (three feet) high.
More than 23,000 people in Tamil Nadu have been moved to relief centres, with plans for tens of thousands more to be evacuated if needed, a senior state official, K. Satyagopal, told Reuters.
More than 10,000 people from two districts in Andhra Pradesh had also been moved, its disaster management commissioner, M.V. Seshagiri Babu, said.
The NDMA warned fishermen not to venture out to sea for the next 36 hours, and urged residents to stay in safe places.
Navy ships and aircraft, as well as 30 diving teams, were on standby to help move people and deliver aid if needed, a navy spokesman said.
India's cyclone season usually runs from April to December, with storms often causing dozens of deaths, evacuations of tens of thousands of people and widespread damage to crops and property.
Wind speeds topped 300 km per hour (186 mph) in an Indian "super-cyclone" that killed 10,000 people in 1999, while a cyclone packing speeds of more than 200 kph (124 mph) lashed the east coast in 2013.
The Tamil Nadu government had declared a holiday for educational institutions in Chennai, Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur, besides coastal taluks of Villupuram.
Rail and flight services here have been affected, officials said.
Around 25 incoming flights, including those from international destinations, were diverted to the nearby Hyderabad and Bangalore airports due to strong winds and poor visibility, airport officials said.
Nearly 25 outbound flights were delayed, officials said, adding that there was no inundation of the runway.
Sri Lankan Airlines said all its Chennai-bound flights were cancelled till Tuesday morning.
The Southern Railways, meanwhile, announced suspension of services on the Chennai Beach and Velacherry MRTS route.
Similarly, suburban rail services on the MMC-Gummidipoondi line were also suspended until further notice. Some passenger trains coming to Chennai and leaving the city were also diverted.