India evacuated more than half a million people as massive Cyclone Phailin closed in on the east coast on Saturday, with winds uprooting trees and tearing into flimsy homes.
Satellite image of Cyclone Phailin approaching Odisha. (Courtesy: Indian Met Dept.)
IMD director general LS Rathore told a press conference in Delhi at noon Phailin was heading toward the coastal region at a speed of 20km per hour and the department expected gusting winds of 235km per hour at the time of the landfall. He said the cyclone will sustain for six hours and its impact will be felt for the next 24 hours.
Rathore said rains are expected in Jharkhand, Bengal, east UP, Bihar and parts of Madhya Pradesh. A total of 440,000 people have been evacuated from Odisha and Andhra Pradesh in one of the biggest such exercises in the country's history, the national disaster agency said on Saturday.
"The total is 4.4 lakh (4,40,000) in all this," Marri Shashidhar Reddy, a top official from the National Disaster Management Authority, told a press conference.
Reddy also told in a news conference that it was one of the "biggest evacuations in India's history", and had been aided by improved early warning systems.
Ganjam, along Andhra Pradesh border, would be most vulnerable to the landfall while six other districts like Kendrapada, Jagatsinghpur, Puri, Khurda, Balasore might be severely affected.
Since the morning the wind speed in Gopalpur has increased phenomenally up to 70 km per hour. The wind speed is consistently increasing in other affected areas also.
In Jagatsinghpur district, which was the worst sufferer of 1999’s super-cyclone, the cyclone shelters were crowded as hordes of people spontaneously reached there. People, however, were still reluctant to move from their houses in Ganjam since they had not seen the devastation of super-cyclone.
“We will weather the storm,” said Seetha Reddy, a fisherwoman in Gopalpur who was reluctant to leave her kutcha house, but was forced by the police to shift to a shelter.
“We have already evacuated more than 3.71 lakh people from affected districts. All the people in villages coming under five kilometres area of sea shore have been evacuated. We have even used police force to evacuate people in Gopalpur,” Odisha revenue minister SN Patro said.
Rain and strong wind lashed across Odisha, severely in affected districts, due to the impact of the incoming cyclone flooding streets in urban areas like Berhampur and Bhubaneswar.
Ground Zero Reports: Live updates from Odisha | Updates from Andhra Pradesh
Odisha recorded incessant rainfall from Friday midnight. A government official said on Saturday morning that efforts on war scale were on to evacuate another 3 lakh before noon even as a woman was reportedly killed in Bhubaneswar after a tree fell on her.
Around 18 fishermen, who had gone to sea 2-3 days ago from Puri district in Odisha, were reportedly stranded and officials were trying to establish a link with them.
Government officials cancelled Durga Puja holidays and stockpiled emergency supplies in coastal Odisha and Andhra Pradesh states, with forecasters saying the cyclone, a massive storm that nearly covers the Bay of Bengal, set to hit the region.
On Saturday, most of the flights to and from Odisha were cancelled, said Sarat Kumar, director of Biju Patnaik Airport.
"The weather is getting worse due to the cyclone. And for passenger safety, flights will be cancelled till the weather improves. There are almost 20 flights, out of which 15 flights have been cancelled. Permission for landing is subject to weather conditions," he said.
In Andhra Pradesh, as many as 52,000 locals were evacuated and 25,000 people accommodated in cyclone shelters in Srikakulam district on Saturday in view of the cyclone that is expected to cross the shore by Saturday evening.
At least seven fishermen who went fishing have not returned in the Icchapuram region.
Heavy rain in Srikakulam forced the authorities to cancel trains and planes to the district.
In its bulletin on the cyclone, issued at 11am on Saturday, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) issued a 'Red Message' warning for North Andhra Pradesh and Odisha Coast about the 'very severe cyclonic storm Phailin' which is now over west-central and adjoining east-central Bay of Bengal.
The IMD also advised fishermen out at sea along north Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal coast to return to coast, adding that "Fishermen are advised not to venture into sea," instructing total suspension of fishing operations.
• Woman dies in Bhubaneswar after tree falls on her during rains.
• 18 fishermen who had gone to sea 2-3 days ago from Puri district 'stranded'. Officials trying to communicate with them.
• 22 trains to Bhubaneswar and other parts of the state cancelled. All trains between Andhra and Odisha also canceled.
• All 18 flights handled by Bhubaneswar airport cancelled.
• All petrol pumps shut in seven Odisha districts expected to bear the brunt of Phailin.
• Power supply in Bhubaneswar erratic; people stock up food and are buying candles, torches.
• 500 trees uprooted around Paradip port in Jagatsinghpur district, say govt officials.
• Allegations of food not being available in cyclone shelters set up in Ganjam district, which is most vulnerable to the cyclone.
• The countdown for the cyclone began with most of Odisha recording incessant rainfall from mid-night even as Odisha government evacuated about 3 lakh people from low lying areas of seven districts to be affected by it.
• Heavy rain in Srikakulam, trains and planes to the district have been cancelled.
• People in low-lying areas evacuated in Srikakulam.
• West Godavari disrtict barrages are filling up with water.
• Andhra Pradesh district collectors to review situation in the state at noon.
• Andhra State road transport corporation employees return to work after 70 days.
• Around 315 villages evacuated in Srikakulam.
• 7 fishermen who went fishing have not returned in the Icchapuram region.
• Breaches in the walls of barrages can be seen in Guntur, Suryalanka village.
• Visakhapatnam, Bhubaneswar flights cancelled.
• Visakhapatnam-Bhubaneswar National Highway afftected.
• Passenger trains from Visakhapatnam to Palasa cancelled. Various other also trains diverted.
• High tidal waves seen in Bhimilipatnam near Vizag.
• In Girijana village commuting has become a big problem.
• In Uppada village near Kakinada, the waves have reached the road and all transportation has come to a halt.
• Agricultural fields has got submerged in Tadepalli Guddem.
• Danger signal No. 10 has been posted to Bhimilipatnam, No. 8 to Gangavaram, No. 5 to Kakinada.
• As a precautionary measure, electricty supply has been stopped in the cyclone affected areas.
• 80 ft road has been breached in Bhimili; revenue officials say they have arranged for sand bags.
"In addition to the Naval and Coast Guard forces, five teams of National Disaster Relief Force are also ready to swing into action in case of an emergency," a senior official said.
Naval and Coast Guard services have been kept on standby in case of emergency.
BSF and CRPF personnel, who are already assisting the local administration in view of the Seemandhra agitation, have also be called in case of emergency, the official added.
People living in 25 villages are expected to be affected during the cyclone.
Trains cancelled, diverted
The Railways have cancelled all trains between Howrah and Visakhapatnam as a precautionary measure.
While it had announced to cancel some passenger trains yesterday, Railways decided to suspend movement of all trains today in view of the cyclone.
"All trains between Howrah and Visakhapatnam will remain suspended today and are also likely to remain suspended on Sunday," a senior East Coast Railway official said.
The trains which have been cancelled include Bhubaneswar-Visakhapatnam Intercity Express, Bhubaneswar- Tirupathy S/F Express, Bhubaneswar-Secunderabad Visakha Express, Guntur-Visakhapatnam-Guntur Simhadri Express, Howrah- Bhubaneswar Janshatabdi Express, Howrah-Puri Shatabdi Express and Bhubaneswar-New Delhi Rajdhani Express. Read more
Here are a few highlights from the IMD bulletin at 4 pm:
• Cyclone Philain currently at 90km south-east of Gopalpur, 210-220 kmph winds expected.
• Heavy to very heavy rainfall in entire Odisha expected when cyclone makes landfall
• Cyclone likely to hit between Kalingpatnam and Paradip at Gopalpur Saturday evening before 8pm.
• Cyclone Phailin will remain as severe cyclonic storm for 6 hours after it hits.
• Heavy rainfall in Odisha, Andhra. Rainfall also expected in Chhattisgarh and Bihar
• At the time of crossing coast, it will remain a cyclonic storm with speeds of 240 kmph will be experienced.
• Intensity of rains and wind in Odisha will increase as the day progresses.
• Squally winds with a speed of 55-65 kmph would continue along and off Odisha and north Andhra Pradesh coasts during next 6 hours.
• State of sea along and off Odisha and north Andhra Pradesh coast is rough will gradually become phenomenal from Saturday afternoon.
• Storm surge with a height of 3-3.5 metre (above astronomical tide) would inundate low lying areas of Ganjam, Khurda, Puri and Jagatsinghpur districts of Odisha and Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh during landfall.
• Extensive damage expected to kutcha houses, some damage to old buildings.
• Large scale disruption of power and communication lines.
• Disruption of rail and road traffic due to extensive flooding.
• Potential threat from flying debris.
• Flooding of escape routes.
• Extensive damage to agricultural crops.
• Mobilise evacuation from coastal areas.
• Judicious regulation of rail and road traffic.
• People in affected areas to remain indoors during cyclone landfall.
Post landfall outlook
• Even after landfall, Phailin likely to maintain the intensity of 'very severe cyclonic storm' for 6 hours and gradually weaken into a cyclonic storm in subsequent 6 hours.
• It will then move northwestwards across interior Odisha.
• Under its influence rainfall at most places would occur over Odisha, north coastal Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and south Jharkhand.
• Squally wind speed reaching 100-120kmph would also prevail for 6 hours and 60-70kmph for subsequent 6 hours over Odisha during the same period.
4pm IMD bulletin tweets by HT:
A big wave smashes into a breakwater at a fishing harbour in Jalaripeta, in Visakhapatnam. (Reuters Photo)
The US Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii forecast maximum sustained winds of 269 kilometers (167 miles) per hour with gusts up to 315 kilometers (196 miles) per hour.
US meteorologists said the storm is flirting with historic power.
"If it's not a record it's really, really close," University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy told The Associated Press.
"You really don't get storms stronger than this anywhere in the world ever. This is the top of the barrel."
To compare to killer US storms, McNoldy said Phailin is near the size of 2005's Hurricane Katrina, which killed 1,200 people and caused devastating flooding in New Orleans, but Phailin also has the wind power of 1992's Hurricane Andrew, which had 165 mph (265 kph) winds at landfall in Miami.
The storm shows no sign of weakening and has an impressive eye, said Ryan Maue of the private weather firm Weather Bell. He called it a "critically dangerous situation with a rare Category 5 landfall," which he said in that region has a history of being catastrophic.
Category 5 storms have winds exceeding 155 mph.
What happened on Friday
In Odisha, more than 140,000 people were evacuated by late Friday evening as efforts were on to move 400,000 more from seven coastal districts to safety before Phailin was feared to strike. Read More
Officials said Ganjam district, neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, would be most vulnerable to the landfall while six other districts -- Kendrapada, Jagatsinghpur, Puri, Khurda, Balasore and Bhadrak – could be severely affected.
“We want zero casualties. The evacuation process will be over on Friday night itself,” said Odisha revenue minister SN Patro. He said the government had two primary tasks – to evacuate people before the cyclone hits them and to immediately reopen roads and communication networks by clearing uprooted trees afterwards with the help of state and central disaster relief forces to enable smooth supply of essential commodities.
Personnel of the Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force, National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and Indian Navy have been deployed in vital places in the affected districts. Besides the 280 multi-purpose cyclone shelters in the districts, the state government has converted about 10,000 concrete schools as temporary cyclone shelters to house evacuated people, special relief commissioner PK Mohapatra said.
The Andhra Pradesh government put all five northern coastal districts -- Srikakulam, Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram, east Godavari and west Godavari -- on high alert and placed rescue teams and monitoring mechanisms in place.
Evacuation of people in low lying areas began in Srikakulam on Friday. An estimated 64,000 people have to be evacuated and moved to safer places in Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam.
In all these three districts, NDRF personnel are already in position to assist the civil administration in relief and rescue operations. Expert swimmers, boats, civil supplies and medicines have been moved to these locations.
Residents shop, stock essential items
Puri residents are sure their town would be spared the fury of cyclone Phailin when it is feared to make a landfall some time on Saturday evening.
Their belief in divine intervention stems from the 1999 super cyclone that spared the temple town while ravaging its adjoining areas.
Other areas in coastal Odisha, however, have no such hope even as they continuously pray to Goddess Durga, the presiding deity of the ongoing Navratra festival.
Even while doing so, they continue to shop and stock essential items.
“In 1999, we starved for days as there was no food. This time I want to stock food for at least seven days,” said Nirakar Dasmohapatra of Ganjam district, which is among the most vulnerable.
Dry food, candles, match boxes and soaps went off the shelf in coastal districts of Odisha as well as state capital Bhubaneswar. So did potatoes, tomatoes and onion, even as chief minister Naveen Patnaik warned of “strict action against hoarders”.
Supply department officials seized several bags of potatoes in Nayagarh district while 300 bags of wheat were seized from a place in Ganjam district.
But traders made a killing selling vegetables at exorbitant prices and hoarding essential items. Potato prices shot up to Rs. 50 per kg and chuda (crushed rice) cost more than double at Rs. 60.
Even big malls in Bhubaneswar hiked food stuff prices. “We are ready to pay more, but there is nothing left in the market,” said Sanjay Dash in Bhubaneswar.
With inputs from HT Correspondents - Ipsit Mohapatra, HT Bureaux in Hyderabad and New Delhi and Agencies