Tamil Nadu and Puducherry coast faced the brunt of the very severe cyclonic storm Nivar in the early hours of Thursday. According to the Indian Meteorological Department, the cyclone made landfall after midnight on Thursday between Puducherry and Marakkanam in Villupuram district of Tamil Nadu with gusts of 120 km per hour-130 km per hour.

The South Indian coast is prone to such storms between October and December, when the North-East monsoon is active over the region. Initial media reports speak of at least three deaths due to the storm.

Heavy rains pounded the region on Thursday morning, with Puducherry and Cuddalore recording over 25 cm of rain till 8.30 am. This has led to widespread water logging in Puducherry, Cuddalore and Villupuram. Many trees have also been uprooted. Officials in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry said the assessment of the damage has begun and a clearer picture would emerge later on Thursday afternoon.

A family wades through a flooded Bussy Street at the heart of Puducherry town on Thursday morning. Thousands living in the low-lying areas were evacuated by the Union Territory administration on Wednesday. Photo: S Janarthanan

As the Cyclone Nivar formed in the Bay of Bengal over the weekend, the storm brought back bitter memories of past cyclones like Vardah in December 2016, which uprooted thousands of trees across northern Tamil Nadu and wreaked heavy damage to life and property. Initial media reports of Nivar, however, suggests it may not be as deadly.

A car parked in an under-construction building at Rainbow Nagar in Puducherry is seen partially submerged following heavy rains that accompanied the cyclone. Photo: S Janarthanan

Cyclone Nivar, according to weather bloggers in Tamil Nadu, was a tough storm to track, with weather model unable to come to a consensus about where exactly it would make landfall even 24 hours before it hit the coast on Thursday morning.

While some models initially predicted that the storm would move towards the Cauvery delta region on the central Tamil Nadu coast, it eventually crossed the coast near Puducherry close to Marakkanam in Tamil Nadu.

A boat at the Puducherry harbour partially damaged in the strong winds of cyclone Nivar. Photo: S Janarthanan

The cyclone came at a time when India is fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. The administrations in Puducherry and Tamil Nadu said that they had made arrangements at relief centres and storm shelters to ensure that there would not be too much crowding, reducing the chances of the virus spreading in these places.

With both Tamil Nadu and Puducherry going to Assembly polls in May 2021, the ruling parties also seemed particularly careful in the preparations.

Municipal workers removing a fallen tree in Puducherry town on Thursday. Several trees came down in the Union Territory due to gusts that clocked at over 125 km per hour. Photo: S Janarthanan

Cyclones of such intensity usually cause widespread damage to standing crops. The governments have assured farmers that compensation will be provided to farmers who suffer damage.

The timing of the cyclone raised apprehension as it came at the beginning of a major cropping season in the region. Crops planted in November usually get harvested before the Pongal festival in January.

With Puducherry and Cuddalore recording rains of over 25 cm, the possibility of fields being flooded is high, something that officials will assess in the coming days.

Crops such as plantain, a major source of revenue for farmers in the region, are particularly vulnerable to gusts of wind. The India Meteorological Department in its bulletins had also warned of damage to such crops.

An elderly man walks past fallen trees in Puducherry on Thursday morning. Photo: S Janarthanan
A view of the famed Puducherry beach on Wednesday, hours before cyclone Nivar struck. The Puducherry administration closed the beach due to rough seas and heavy winds. Photo: S Janarthanan