Cyclone heading towards Indian Chennai coast

Schools and ports shut down in southeast India on Wednesday as a cyclone headed towards the coast, with forecasters predicting it could make a direct hit on Chennai later in the day.

Cyclone Nilam was likely to do extensive damage to thatched roofs and huts and also uproot trees, causing power blackouts and communication problems across Tamil Nadu and Andra Pradesh states, officials said.

A bulletin from the India Meteorological Department warned of winds gusting up to 110 kilometres (70 miles) an hour and flooding of low-lying areas due to a sea surge and heavy rain.

It advised residents living in huts along the coast to move to safer areas and ordered fishermen not to go out to sea.

The cyclone was expected to make landfall on Wednesday evening at some point along a 350-kilometre stretch of coast. Chennai, the state capital of Tamil Nadu, is in the middle of the affected zone.

“We have advised all the schools and colleges to remain close for the day,” Jayraman, a government administrator in Chennai who uses only one name, told AFP.

“All maritime activities have been suspended and the government is monitoring the situation closely,” he added. “So far, no evacuation process has started.”

Local authorities said they were preparing helicopters and boats for any emergency. Existing cyclone shelters, schools and community halls have also been identified to serve as potential relief camps.