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Cyclone pummels eastern Indian coast, kills 19

From Harmeet Singh, CNN
December 30, 2011 -- Updated 1409 GMT (2209 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The storm uprooted trees and sent debris flying through the air
  • Meteorologists forecast heavy rainfall and high winds across the region
  • Fisherman are told to stay at home for the day as Thane whips up high seas
  • Damage is expected to palm-thatched homes, trees and crops in coastal areas

New Delhi (CNN) -- Lashing winds and heavy rain pummeled India's southeastern coastline Friday as Cyclone Thane roared onshore killing at least 19 people.

The storm uprooted trees, ripped off traffic signals from their posts and sent shards of glass and other debris whizzing through the air.

Roads began to flood and communications were tough because of cellular service outages.

Thane hit the states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu and the union territory of Puducherry. But it took a decidedly southern turn as it made landfall, severely affecting the Tamil Nadu district of Cuddalore, south of the city of Chennai. Winds were gusting in Cuddalore at almost 90 miles per hour.

At least 12 people died in Cuddalore, said Amuthavalli, the district's top official who goes by a single name.

She told CNN the fatalities were the result of wall collapses and electrocution.

No major rescue operations were required. The death toll in the district is not expected to rise greatly, she said.

Emergency crews were working to restore power supplies and clear roads of fallen trees and downed power lines, she added.

Meteorologists downgraded Cyclone Thane from "very severe" to "severe" once it came over land and began to lose steam. By lunchtime, it had weakened further to a "deep depression" as it moved westward.

Fishermen were advised to stay off rough seas throughout the day and coastal residents had been told to evacuate to higher ground ahead of the storm's arrival.

Many people in largely agricultural and fishing communities along the coast live in thatched-roof huts that could sustain extensive damage, the India Meteorological Department said Friday.

Parts of coastal and inland Tamil Nadu and Puducherry can expect heavy rainfall over the next day, the agency said.

Heavy rain is also forecast for parts of Andhra Pradesh, as well as northern Kerala and southern Karnataka.

CNN's Moni Basu contributed to this report.

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