The Odisha government on Thursday held a high-level emergency meeting to review the situation with cyclone Phailin rushing towards the state's coast.
“The government is fully prepared to tackle the cyclonic storm,” chief minister Naveen Patnaik said after the meeting.
Patnaik cancelled his New Delhi visit and sought defence minister AK Antony’s help in tackling the storm. “Our past experience indicates that despite preparedness by the state government, the impact of a very severe cyclonic storm requires the support of defence forces to mitigate the effects of the extreme weather condition,” Patnaik said in a letter to Antony.
A latest bulletin of Bhubaneswar Meteorological Department said the cyclone has intensified into a very severe storm and lay centred at about 800 km southeast of Paradip at 11.30 am on Thursday. “It would continue to move and cross Andhra Pradesh and Odisha coast between Kalingapatnam (in Andhra Pradesh) and Paradip, close to Gopalpur (Odisha) by Saturday evening, as a very severe cyclonic storm with a maximum sustained speed of 175 km to 185 km per hour,” it said.
Phailin is now classified as Category 1 storm on a scale that goes up to Category 5. The “super cyclone” that had hit Odisha in 1999, killing 10,000 people was classified as Category 5 storm.
Officials said Ganjam and Gajapati districts besides neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, might be most vulnerable to the impending cyclone followed by Kendrapada, Jagatsinghpur, Puri, Khurda, Balasore and Bhadrak in Odisha.
While the government had earlier cancelled the Durga Puja holidays of employees in 14 coastal districts affected by the “super-cyclone” in 1999, it cancelled the leaves of all staff members in all districts on Thursday. “We have asked them to be ready for rescue and relief operations in the coastal district feared to be affected by the storm. Officials have been told to stock up dry and cooked food besides medicines in cyclone shelters,” revenue minister SN Patro said.
The government has also deployed the Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF) in the affected districts and started a mock drill. It directed the collectors to start evacuating people from villages to keep them in about 600 cyclone shelters from Saturday morning.
“They have been told that by evening not a single person should be left behind in kuccha houses in low-lying areas,” a senior officer said.