Thousands of people fled to safer places and an equal number was evacuated along coastal areas of India's southern state of Andhara Pradesh and neighboring Odisha on Saturday ahead of a massive cyclone set to hit during the evening, officials said
The cyclone triggered Wednesday due to a deep depression in the Bay of Bengal was named as Cyclone Phailin and categorized as " very severe" by Indian weather forecasters. Since then it has been moving fast towards land and likely to hit the coastal areas of two states on Saturday evening.
Officials have warned the tides of around 2.5-3.0 m above would inundate low lying areas of Srikakulam during landfall.
India's Meteorological Department on Saturday predicted the storm will bring winds up to 240 km per hour. The winds and flying debris are likely to cause extensive damage to mud and thatched houses on the coast. The authorities fear large scale disruption to power and communication lines, extensive damage to crops and disruption of rail and road traffic due to extensive flooding.
Fishermen have been advised to avoid going to sea and suspend fishing operations. "The Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy is constantly monitoring the situation and on Friday evening reviewed preparedness and the measures taken by various departments in wake of Cyclone Phailin," said a government spokesman.
"The Chief Minister asked the Chief Secretary to direct all officials to take all measures to protect the life and property of the people."
The Andhra Pradesh government has urged its officials to immediately report to duty to help in disaster preparedness. It has set up a 24-hour control room in all the vulnerable districts.
The spokesman said four Indian army columns with medical and engineering staff and boats have been sent to Visakhapatnam for rescue and relief operations. It has also kept 15 teams of NDRF ( National Disaster Response Force) personnel with rescue, evacuation equipment on a standby.
The authorities are providing shelter to people in government buildings, schools and other accommodations and directed officials to run free kitchens at these locations.Reports pouring in from Kalingapatnam and other places said some people were reluctant to abandon their homes.
"So far, 40,000 people from Visakhapatnam District, 20,000 from Srikakulam District and 4,000 from Vizianagaram District have been evacuated and shifted to safer places," the spokesman said.
"In view of the severity of cyclone the chief minister has appealed all the people living in low lying areas to cooperate with the administration and shift to safer places."
The Disaster Management in Andhra Pradesh said that Cyclone Phailin is the 74th Cyclone in the recorded history of Cyclones in Andhra Pradesh Coastal line.
Meanwhile, India's Defense Minister A K Antony has directed Indian Navy, Army and Air Force to be in full readiness to provide all support in view of the impending cyclone. The directions were issued following the requests from Andhra Pradesh and Odisha and governments for rescue and relief operations.
"Two IAF IL-76 have been despatched this morning with NDRF teams and equipment to Bhubneshwar. Other IAF assets are on stand-by at various bases including- Raipur, Nagpur, Jagdalpur, Barrackpore, Ranchi and Gwalior. IAF has committed two C130J Super Hercules aircraft, 18 helicopters, including Mi -17V5 and two AN-32s to the effort and the aircraft are already positioned to move at short notice," said a Defense spokesman.
The Indian government in June had to rush its military to carry out rescue operations in the flash flood hit areas of northern Indian state of Uttrakhand. The military carried out helicopter sorties into the mountains to evacuate around 100,000 people including Hindu pilgrims and tourists trapped there after deadly floods ravaged it. The floods in Uttrakhand killed hundreds besides rendering thousands missing.
The striking local employees of power department in India's southern state of Andhra Pradesh called off their six-day strike in coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema (jointly known as Seemandhra) ahead of a looming threat of a cyclone. The employees protesting bifurcation of state on Friday resumed their duties.
Reports said the neighboring Odisha government too has alerted its employees and disaster management cells for emergency in about 14 districts.
Meteorological officials have warned of heavy rainfall in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh on Saturday evening.
In October 1999, a super-cyclone hit Odisha wreaking havoc across its 14 coastal districts and killing 10,000 people.