Lakhs of people were being evacuated to safer places and the military kept on standby on Friday as Cyclone Phailin is expected to hit the east coast with winds gusting up to 220 kmph on Saturday evening.
Cyclone Phailin — the biggest cyclone in years to hit Odisha — is expected to make landfall near Gopalpur in Ganjam district in the eastern State after crossing an area between Paradip in Odisha and Kalingapatnam in AP.
Five districts were in the eye of the storm with IMD Chief Dr LS Rathore identifying Ganjam, Khurda, Puri and Jagatsinghpur districts in Odisha and Srikakalum in AP as those that is likely to be worst hit.
Rathore said the cyclone storm over east central Bay of Bengal currently lay 450 km southeast of Gopalpur and warned that it will be accompanied by a storm surge of up to three metres in the districts that will bear the brunt.
“Cyclone Phailin is a very severe cyclone,” Rathore said in Delhi. Rathore said the storm, which will hit the coast at 6 pm, is unlikely to develop into a super cyclone. Phailin was named by Thailand and it means sapphire in Thai.
“The US Navy has also forecast that the wind speed will be above 240 kmph. Therefore, the cyclone is not less than any super cyclone for us,” Special Relief Commissioner PK Mohapatra told reporters in Bhubaneshwar.
Mohapatra said the IMD had declared the 1999 calamity as a super cyclone as the wind speed had crossed 220 kmph. An estimated 9,885 persons were killed in the super cyclone that pummelled Odisha.
“This time around, the wind speed is not much different than the previous super cyclone,” he said.
Squalls with a wind speed of 45-55 kmph to 65 kmph have already started along Odisha coast since morning under the impact of Phailin. About 25 cm of rain has been predicted in 24 hours in the affected districts due to the cyclone.
The Odisha health department cancelled holidays and leave of all doctors in view of the impending situation even as the State Government set a target of “zero casualty” and ordered speedy evacuation of people in seven coastal districts.
East Coast Railway planned to regulate and cancel about 24 passenger trains between Visakhapatnam and Bhadrak on the Howrah-Chennai Main Line route on Saturday.
Authorities began evacuating 64,000 people from the low-lying areas of three vulnerable districts in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha Revenue Minister N Raghuveera Reddy said.
Emergency food supplies and shelters for people expected to flee the heavy winds and rains were also being readied in the vulnerable districts. Disaster management teams were also kept in readiness.
Odisha Government set a target of “zero casualty” and ordered speedy evacuation of people in low-lying areas in seven coastal districts which is home to lakhs of people.
In Delhi, Defence Minister AK Antony ordered the Armed Forces to be ready to move in to Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.
Two IAF IL-76 aircraft have already airlifted NDRF teams and equipment to Bhubaneshwar.
IAF assets have been kept on standby at various bases including at Raipur, Nagpur, Jagdalpur, Barrackpore, Ranchi and Gwalior.
It has also kept two C130J aircraft, 18 helicopters, 2 AN-32s aircraft on a standby to move at a short notice besides asking its Eastern Air Command to coordinate relief operation with the task force positioned at Barrackpore.
The Navy, Airforce, NDRF, ODRF were ready for relief and rescue operation as soon as the cyclone hits the coast, Mohapatra said in Bhubaneswar.
An anxious Odisha Government held meetings and evaluated the developing situation.
“At least 28 teams of the National Disaster Response Forces are at the disposal of the Odisha Government for evacuation and relief operations,” a senior official said after one such meeting.
So far eight teams of NDRF, reaching having 20 personnel, have been deployed in Puri district, the official said.
Revenue and Disaster Management Minister SN Patro said district collectors have been told to complete evacuation of people by this evening.
“We do not want to take any chance,” Patro said adding that shelters were ready.
“The Collectors of all seven districts like Ganjam, Gajapati, Puri, Jagatsingpur, Kendrapara, Nayagarh and Khurda have been directed to start evacuation and ensure 100 per cent evacuation of people to cyclone and flood shelters and other safe places by today evening,” said Patro.
The Collectors of Bhadrak and Balasore districts have also been alerted, the Minister said.
Appealing to the people not to panic, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik asked them to cooperate with the Government in relief and rescue operations.
The IMD forecast a storm surge of 2.5 to 3 metres in Ganjam, Khurda, Puri, Jagatsinghpur and Srikakulam districts.
A storm surge is a rise of the sea as a result of atmospheric pressure changes and winds associated with a storm.
Gales with a speed of 205-215 kmph are expected when the cyclone crosses the coast, according to AP Revenue Minister N Raghuveera Reddy.
“Sometimes the gale speed may even touch 235 kmph while heavy to very heavy rainfall of up to 25 cm is also likely under the impact,” he told reporters in Hyderabad.
The Minister said he spoke to Collectors of coastal districts and put them on high alert.
Army, Navy and National Disaster Response Force personnel have already been positioned in vulnerable coastal districts while IGP (north-coastal zone) Ch Dwaraka Tirumala Rao has been asked to coordinate with other departments to ensure effective communications in case of emergency.
“In 1996, we had a super cyclone and Phailin is expected to be of the same intensity,” Reddy said.
With countdown beginning for the ‘super cyclone-like’ calamity to hit Odisha coast, the State Government has set up control rooms to make available information, official sources said.
One satellite-based measure of Phailin’s strength estimated the storm’s central pressure at 910.7 millibars, with sustained winds of 175 mph (280 kph). If those numbers were verified by official forecast agencies, they would place Phailin on par with 2005′s Hurricane Katrina, and break the record for the most intense cyclone in Indian Ocean recorded history.
In fact, meteorologists can’t precisely determine Phailin’s current strength because there are no ‘hurricane hunter’ aircraft taking direct measurements of storms in the Indian Ocean basin. The Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC), a Hawaii-based forecasting outpost of the US Navy, says Phailin is undergoing “extreme rapid intensification.”
While strengthening, the storm has grown to nearly half the size of India itself.
(With inputs from from agencies)
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