A “very severe” cyclone gathered pace as it hurtled towards the Odisha and Andhra Pradesh coasts where at least 3 lakh people were evacuated on Friday, panicked residents stocked up on food and supplies and the military and disaster response teams prepared for the storm ahead.
Within 24 hours, Cyclone Phailin went from a Category 1 storm to Category 4 (on a scale going up to 5), according to London-based storm-tracking system Tropical Storm Risk. It is expected to make landfall at 6pm Saturday between Kalingapatam in Andhra and Paradip in Odisha.
Calling Phailin a “very severe cyclonic storm”, the Met department in Bhubaneswar forecast 220kmph winds and “3-metre-high (15-foot) storm surges that would inundate low-lying areas of Ganjam, Khurda, Puri and Jagatsinghpur districts”.
But Tropical Storm Risk and the US navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Centre forecast winds up to 315kmph. Experts said it could be worse than Hurricane Katrina that devastated the US in 2005, killing more than 1,800 people and causing $75 billion of damage.
In Odisha — facing arguably its biggest natural disaster since the 1999 Category 5 super-cyclone that killed 10,000 — the government was working to evacuate 6 lakh people in eight districts. In Andhra, 64,000 people were expected to be moved from Srikakulam, Vijianagaram and Visakhapatnam districts.
The sea had already come in by about 70 feet in Kalingapatnam. Paradip port shut down and local fishermen were ordered to return to land.
Across both states, hundreds of cyclone shelters have been set up and stocked with food, medicines and other supplies. Personnel from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), army, navy, air force and Coast Guard have been deployed. Besides, heavy-lift planes, helicopters and diving teams are on standby.
Through the day, cyclone warnings played out on radio and TV and through loudspeakers. Dry foods, candles, matches, soaps and vegetables went off market shelves and petrol pumps saw long queues. Several trains were cancelled.
National Disaster Management Authority vice-chairman M Shashi-dhar Reddy said 23 NDRF teams were assisting local administrations and more were on standby. “Around 1.2 crore people are expected to be affected,” he said, adding that parts of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal could also be hit.
The Centre has constituted 30 quick response medical teams to be moved in at short notice.
In Delhi, home secretary Anil Goswami convened a meeting of the national executive committee to review evacuations and states’ preparedness.