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Monster cyclone slams northeast India, takes aim at Bangladesh

The enormous Cyclone Fani, equivalent in power to a Category 5 hurricane, slammed into northeastern India Friday, whipping the region with torrential rain and sustained winds over 120 miles per hour before moving toward neighboring Bangladesh. The storm forced more than a million people to evacuate, brought transportation to a standstill and disrupted Indian election events. Judy Woodruff reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We return now to our top story, the enormous cyclone that slammed into northeastern India today, whipping the region with lashing wind and torrential rain, before moving into neighboring Bangladesh. It was the worst storm to hit the area in two decades.

    Cyclone Fannie lashed India's east coast Friday with prolific force. Sustained winds of 127 miles an hour battered coastal areas, destroyed homes, tore apart roofs, toppled electrical lines and knocked out power across the region.

  • Dipak:

    This one is the most severe tropical cyclone I have experienced.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The storm came ashore Friday morning near the town of Puri as an extremely severe cyclone. It is now tracking northeast past Kolkata and toward Northwest Bangladesh.

    Inland, driving winds shattered glass doors and windows at a local college. Gusts even toppled this crane onto nearby houses. Indian officials say unprecedented evacuation efforts have been under way. Some 1.2 million people have been forced from their homes in low-lying areas to 4,000 temporary shelters.

  • Dileshwer (through translator):

    The situation is very bad. There are no arrangements. We only have a place to stay.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Transit across the region is disrupted as well. Rail lines closed and at least 200 trains were canceled across India, leaving travelers stranded.

  • Woman (through translator):

    Since last night, we have been sitting here. We are not getting any train. We are just sitting. And our money is also gone. What do we do?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In Kolkata, the major regional airport closed for a time. In some places, residents have gone out to clear fallen trees. Relief efforts are under way, with more than 50 rescue teams dispatched. India's Coast Guard is out distributing aid to survivors via helicopter and ship, the navy, air force and army on high alert.

    The most devastating cyclone in recent memory to hit India landed in 1999. With heavy rain and winds more than 170 miles an hour, it killed 10,000 people. With Bangladesh in this storm's path, 60 million people are potential targets. Authorities there have already evacuated 400,000 to shelters.

    Snigdha Chakraborty is the Bangladesh country manager for Catholic Relief Services. She says the nation faces severe flood risk, especially in low-lying areas.

  • Snigdha Chakraborty:

    The rains have already started. And the dikes, the river dikes, are getting damaged because of the high rise and the high water. The primary aim is now to evacuate the people to the safest cyclone shelters.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    She adds, the more than one million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar who are living in Bangladesh are also at risk. They live in makeshift housing at camps in Cox's Bazar and will yet again have to relocate.

  • Snigdha Chakraborty:

    They're already living in sort of temporary shelters, although they are strong enough for the time being. But it will also give them a mental kind of, I would say, stress, anxiety that, how they will live again?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As the cyclone moves northeast this weekend, heavy rain and strong winds are expected to persist.

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