New Delhi/Dhaka - A powerful cyclone left a trail of destruction along India's eastern coast on Friday, killing three people, damaging homes and forcing huge numbers of people to flee to shelters.
Cyclone Fani made landfall near the temple town of Puri at 8 am (0230 GMT) bringing torrential rains and wind speeds of up to 205 kilometres per hour, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) said.
Three people died and over 160 people were injured, mostly in house and tree collapses, disaster response force and state officials said.
In neighbouring Bangladesh, where the storm was expected Saturday evening, four people died in a rice field in a lighting strike, police said.
Fani, the strongest storm to hit India in several years, weakened to wind speeds of about 135 kilometres per hour Friday night as it moved inland toward the neighbouring West Bengal state, the IMD said.
Fani, which means hood of the snake in Bengali, destroyed thatched homes, uprooted trees and disrupted power supplies and transport particularly in Puri, Cuttack and Bhubaneshwar districts, said Randeep Rana, a top National Disaster Response Force official.
Tens of thousands of trees were uprooted and summer crops, orchards and plantations were also devastated on a large scale.
In both India and Bangladesh, mass evacuations were carried out and residents moved to safe shelters.
In Odisha alone, 1.2 million people were taken to more than 4,000 shelters in about 24 hours, said the government. In Bangladesh, up to 2.5 million people are set to be evacuated by Friday night.
Schools were closed, and flights and trains in Odisha were also cancelled, state disaster management official Prabhat Ranjan Mahapatra said. Naval warships and helicopters were on standby with relief materials and medical teams.
"We are finished. We have lost everything. The storm destroyed our tin-shed home and everything inside. Our family will have to start from scratch now," Pratap Chandra Pradhan, a resident on the outskirts of Bhubaneshwar, told NDTV.
Mahapatra said the exact extent of damage and loss of lives will be clear by Saturday, when relief teams reach the state's remote areas.
"But so many lives have potentially been saved because of the timely and large-scale evacuation. The damage by the storm could have been far greater," he claimed.
In Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, with 15 million inhabitants, the airport was shut from Friday afternoon until Saturday.
Coming during India's vast general elections, the storm led to the cancellation or postponement of campaign rallies of top politicians including Premier Narendra Modi.
"Have cancelled my rallies for the next 48 hours because of what could be an impending disaster #CyclonicStormFANI We are monitoring the situation 24x7 and doing all it takes. I appeal to all people to cooperate. Be alert, take care and stay safe for the next two days," West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said.
Fani is considered the most severe storm to have hit India in two decades. More than 10,000 people were killed in 1999 when a cyclone packing winds of up to 260 kilometres per hour struck Odisha.dpa