Indian state battles to aid cyclone victims

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Hyderabad - Indian authorities scrambled to launch rescue operations yesterday after as many as 1,000 people were feared killed by a cyclone that lashed the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. Communications and transport routes to the worst-affected areas were disrupted. Torrents have swept away bridges, while winds threw trees across highways and blew down telephone lines.

Police and troops battled swirling flood waters to reach coastal villages; helicopters dropped food and drinking water to the stranded. V Chandrababu Naidu, the state's Chief Minister, said after an aerial survey that the death-toll could reach 1,000. "The rice bowl of the state looks like a burial ground," he said.

The cyclone destroyed houses, livestock and crops. The number of homes destroyed or damaged was put at 400,000; several thousand people were injured. The United News of India said seven people had been admitted to hospital with symptoms similar to cholera, as health workers faced a possible epidemic.

The cyclone, with winds up to 110 mph, hit the coast on Wednesday at the port of Kakinada. Waves swept up to three miles inland, submerging towns and villages. About 3.5 million people live in the Konaseema region around the Godavari delta south of Kakinada, which took the brunt of the storm, which moved inland before petering out. Two million people were affected by the disaster.

About 100 soldiers and eight doctors had fanned out in East Godavari to begin relief operations, an official said. Six helicopters were flying continuous trips to drop supplies to stranded villagers.

Most fatalities were caused by flooding, house collapses or electrocution. Mr Naidu put a provisional estimate on losses in East Godavari, hit hardest by the cyclone, at 20bn rupees (pounds 370m). Weather officials said the cyclone had fizzled out.

Reddy Subramaniam, a tax collector in Rajahmundry, said 2,500 livestock had been lost, and 625,000 acres of rice paddy inundated. H S Brahma, the official coordinating relief in Hyderabad, 200 miles from Kakinada, said 100,000 people were sheltering in 400 relief camps set up in East and West Godavari districts.

Andhra Pradesh's flat coastline makes it vulnerable to storms tearing in off the Bay of Bengal. In 1977, 10,000 people were killed by a cyclone that drove a tidal wave up to eight miles inland. A cyclone killed 120 people in June this year and 967 people died in 1990.