5,000 evacuated due to heavy rains in southern Indian coast

Heavy rains lashed the southern Indian coast as a cyclonic storm gathered strength Friday, packing winds up to 70 kilometers (43 miles) per hour, and authorities evacuated 5,000 people from low-lying villages, officials said. The storm, triggered by a depression in the Bay of Bengal, moved toward the southern districts along the coast of Andhra Pradesh state on Friday, prompting its government to declare high alert in coastal areas, Relief Commissioner D. Roshaiah said.

At least 5,000 people were moved to higher ground in the districts of Prakasham and Ongole that would likely catch the edge of the storm, he said. The area is about 250 kilometers (155 miles) southeast of Hyderabad, capital of Andhra Pradesh.

Several train and other transportation services were halted and fishermen warned not to go to the sea, Roshaiah said. Officials reopened the airport in the coastal city of Visakhapatanam, which was shut since Oct. 12 after rains submerged its runway, but no flight could take off or land because of the strong winds.

The rains and the consequent flooding over the past week have claimed at least 90 lives in the states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, according to official estimates. Most deaths were caused by drowning, electrocution and house collapses.

On Thursday, authorities evacuated more than 50,000 people from low-lying villages of Tamil Nadu state, after its capital, Madras, was flooded. Water began to recede Friday and the threat of a storm hitting the state subsided.

The storm was now moving toward the coast of Andhra Pradesh state, which lies to the north of Tamil Nadu, said weather official G. Sudhakar Rao. Rains were expected to continue until Sunday, Rao said.

The rains have flooded a key highway linking the two states and triggered landslides in some areas of Andhra Pradesh state, cutting off road links.

A car carrying three people was washed away Friday near the temple town of Tirupathy, police said. The passengers have yet to be traced, said an officer, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to journalists, the AP reports.

At least 15 fishermen were reportedly stranded in the sea off the coast of Krishnapatanam, 300 kilometers (185 miles) southeast of Hyderabad, said Ravi Chandra, a local administrator. On Thursday, 103 fishermen took refuge on an island, Sriharikota, where India operates a rocket launchpad, after they were caught in the storm while fishing, Chandra said.

The coastline of Andhra Pradesh state stretches nearly 900 kilometers (560 miles).