Phailin, a very severe cyclonic storm, said to be the second strongest after the disastrous super-cyclone of 1999, on Saturday struck the Odisha coast, bringing in its wake torrential rains and wind speeds of over 200 kmph in the state and in the neighbouring north coastal Andhra Pradesh.
Darkness enveloped wide swathes of the coastal districts of Odisha, especially Ganjam, whose Gopalpur-on-sea was the entry point for the storm uprooting trees and electric poles. People were forced to remain indoors by the pounding rains and vehicular traffic came to a grinding halt.
Heavy to very heavy rainfall were also widespread in the districts of Gajapati, Khurda, Puri, Jagatsinghpur, Nayagarh, Cuttack, Bhadrak and Kendrapara in coastal region besides state capital Bhubaneshwar.
However, the extent of damage wreaked by the cyclone was not immediately available.
Five people were killed in Odisha in the heavy rains ahead of the storm. Of them, three persons, including a woman, were killed after uprooted trees fell on them in the state capital and at Khalikote and Polsara in Ganjam district, police said.
The cyclone made its landfall "very close to Gopalpur town" around 9pm and has just started crossing the coast in Odisha, IMD director general L S Rathore told reporters in New Delhi just a little later.
"Still there is scope the speed to go up as the cyclone will remain very severe for 6 hours. Post landfall, there will be no large change in the intensity," he said, adding that for another 12 to 24 hours, there will be moderate rains in large parts of east India.
He denied that Phailin was a super cyclone.
The 'eye' or centre of the cyclone is estimated to be 15 kilometers in spread and its intensity will continue till Sunday morning, Met officials said.
Rathore said that the areas likely to suffer maximum damage are the stretch between Kalingaptam and Paradip while adding that Gopalpur will be the epicentre.
"The very severe cyclonic storm will after 6 hours turn into cyclonic storm and then deep depression," he said.
Nearly 6 lakh people were evacuated, including 4.50 lakh in Odisha.
Army, IAF, Navy, CRPF and National Disaster Response Force were positioned in areas vulnerable to the cyclone.
All trains between Howrah and Visakhapatnam have been suspended and power supply switched off along the Odisha coastline, and three coastal districts in Andhra Pradesh as a precautionary measure.
Flights and trains from Odisha capital Bhubaneshwar have also been suspended.
At least 10 flights of Air India, Indigo and Jet Airways scheduled to arrive or take off from the airport here remained cancelled, director of Biju Patnaik International Airport Sarad Kumar told PTI.
This is the strongest since the one in 1999 that wreaked havoc in Odisha, leaving at least 9,000 people dead.
"Our main focus is to avoid loss of human life. So far we have evacuated 4.50 lakh people in Odisha and 1 lakh more in Andhra Pradesh," Union home secretary Anil Goswami earlier told reporters in Delhi.
Most of the evacuated people have been sheltered in 500 specially-built cyclone camps in the two states. Each cyclone shelter can accommodate up to 1,500 people while their ground floors may be used as cattle shelters.
Met officials said the impact of cyclone Phailin would be highest during the night and gradually come down from dawn. Reports said that two more people were killed in Odisha when trees fell on them following strong winds.
The National Disaster Management Authority said it had deployed nearly 2,000 National Disaster Response Force personnel in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal.
Five lakh tonnes of foodgrains has been kept ready for distribution to the people in the affected region. "We are ready with 5 lakh tonnes of foodgrains for distribution to cyclone-affected people in Andhra Pradesh and Odisha," Union food minister KV Thomas said.
Rains also lashed parts of West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, East UP and Bihar.