Nearly 3 lakh people fled their homes in coastal areas of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh on Friday as a massive cyclone — so large it filled nearly the entire Bay of Bengal—gathered strength and headed towards eastern coast.
Forecasters said cyclone Phailin, which will make landfall near Gopalpur in Odisha on Saturday evening, was a "very severe cyclonic storm" and is expected to cause large-scale power and communications outages and shut down rail links if it continues on its current path without weakening. There would also be extensive damage to crops.
Odisha special relief commissioner Pradeep Kumar Mohapatra said about 5 lakh were expected to move to shelters in the state.
Besides 280 multi-purpose cyclone shelters in the vulnerable districts, about 10,000 concrete schools have been converted into temporary cyclone shelters to house the evacuated people. These shelters have been stocked with food items, medicines and auto fuels.
The Bay of Bengal has been the scene of the some of the deadliest storms in recent history. A 1999 Orissa cyclone killed 10,000 people, while 445,000 livestock perished.
This time, however, the state government said it was better prepared. It broadcast cyclone warnings through loudspeakers and on radio and television as the first winds were felt on the coast and in the state capital, Bhubaneswar.
The National Disaster Response Force, much criticised over its lack of preparedness for the Uttarakhand floods which killed almost 6,000, said it sent 42 teams to Orissa and AP in advance.
Defence minister AK Antony directed the three services -- army, air force and the navy to ready for any eventuality. Two IL-76 Indian Air Force aircraft have been dispatched this morning with National Disaster Response Force teams and equipment to Bhubaneshwar.
Disagreement arose over the power packed by Phailin, although most forecasters expected it to weaken upon reaching the coast.
The Met department described it as a "very severe cyclonic storm" with wind speeds of 210-220 km per hour and resisted upgrading it to a stronger "super cyclone."
But the US Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Centre predicted gusts of up to 315 kmph. London-based storm tracking service Tropical Storm Risk said Phailin was a super cyclone and placed it in the most intense Category 5 of powerful storms, evoking memories of the devastating 1999 storm when wind reaching speeds of 300 kmph winds battered Odisha for 30 hours.
Some forecasters likened its size and intensity to that of hurricane Katrina, which devastated the US Gulf coast and New Orleans in 2005.
Mohapatra agreed "Phailin will be no less than the 1999 super cyclone”.
An Odisha Met department bulletin said low lying areas of Ganjam, Khurda, Puri and Jagatsinghpur districts of Odisha will be inundated by a high tide during the landfall.
What's happening today
# The MeT department: DG LS Rathore said on Friday afternoon that Cyclone Phailin would hit coast between Kalingapatnam and Paradeep on Saturday evening and heavy rains were expected in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Bihar.
# People in affected districts and Bhubaneswar went for panic buying of essential items. Dry foods, candles, match boxes, soaps went off the shelves of shops, while potatoes and other vegetables disappeared from the markets. Long queues were seen in petrol pumps as people wanted to stock petrol and diesel for at least seven days.
# The government has cancelled Durga puja leaves of employees in all 30 districts.“We want no casualties,” Odisha revenue minister SN Patro said. He said the government started evacuating people before the cyclone hits and will begin reopening roads and communication network by clearing uprooted trees after the cyclone subsides.
# Paradip Port stopped cargo operations on Friday, port chairman Sudhanshu Shekhara Mishra. He said all vessels were ordered to leave the port, which handles coal, crude oil and iron ore. An oil tanker holding about 2 million barrels of oil, worth some $220 million, was among those moved, an oil company source said.
# East Coast Railway plans to regulate and cancel about 24 passenger trains between Visakhapatnam and Bhadrak on the Howrah-Chennai Main Line route tommorow in view of the approaching cyclone.
The trains which will either be regulated or cancelled are Puri-Cuttack-Puri passenger, Paradeep-Cuttack passenger, Cuttack-Paradeep passenger, Puri-Gunupur-Puri passenger, Puri-Rourkela passenger, Puri-Cuttack passenger, Bhadrak-Cuttack-Bhadrak passenger and Cuttack-Palasa-Cuttack passenger trains, an ECoR official said.
Hover over the graphic for district-wise control room nos
# Andhra Pradesh breathed easy after nearly 30,000 electricity workers called off their strike on Friday in the wake of the cyclone, ending widespread power blackouts for millions of people.
# More than 40,000 villagers were evacuated from coastal areas along eastern seaboard and the officials reached out to the military for help.
# Using trucks and buses, authorities evacuated 40,000 people from 40 villages to government-run shelters, schools and buildings in five districts of Orissa state, said Surya Narayan Patra, the state revenue and disaster management minister.
# Patra said authorities plan to take another 100,000 people to safer areas before the cyclone hits the region. "No one will be allowed to stay in mud and thatched houses in the coastal areas," he said.
# Authorities also planned to shift thousands of people and cattle to safer areas in neighboring Andhra Pradesh state, the state government statement said.
# Weather forecasters had been predicting waves up to 7 feet (2 meters), but warned that the storm has been gaining strength and its impact could be severe.
# Weather office expects windspeeds of 200kmph-250kmph when cyclone Phailin makes landfall in Gopalpur district in Odisha on Saturday evening.
# Authorites fear 'extreme damage' and flooding in low-lying districts of coastal Andhra. People have been asked to evacuate low-lying areas in Srikakulam.
# Phailin is expected to hit hardest in Srikakulam, Vizianagaram, Visakhapatnam, East and West Godavari districts. Teams of the National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) have started preparing for the cyclone in the five districts.
# AKV Mohan, a businessman in Visakhapatnam, told HT correspondent that people in the town are stocking up on food and fuel. There has been a sudden rise in the sale of candles.
# Schools and colleges in Vishakhapatnam are closed; associations are moving around the district and advising people to prepare for the cyclone.
# "The very severe cyclonic storm, Phailin over east central Bay of Bengal moved west-northwestwards with a speed of 15 kmph and lay centred about 520km south-southeast of Paradip, 530kms from Gopalpur and 530km east-southeast of Kalingapatnam," the IMD said in its latest bulletin.
# IMD, which till Thursday night expected that the wind speed would remain limited within 185 kmph during landfall on Saturday, said in its latest bulletin that Phailin would hit with increased intensity with a maximum sustained speed of 205-215 kmph.
# The deep depression over east central Bay of Bengal, which had intensified into a severe cyclonic storm on Thursday morning, has intensified further and lay centred at 2.30am on Friday about 590km south-southeast of Paradip and 600km southeast of Gopalpur in Odisha coast.
Officials said Ganjam and Gajapati districts in Odisha were likely to be the most vulnerable to the cyclonic storm, followed by the state's Kendrapada, Jagatsinghpur, Puri, Khurda, Balasore and Bhadrak districts.
The government has already deployed the Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF) and started mock drills in the districts most likely to be affected.
On Thursday, Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik had cancelled his New Delhi visit and written to Union defence minister AK Antony for help in dealing with the impending calamity.