Cyclone Phailin began hammering the eastern coast late this evening with winds picking up frightening speed and heavy rain swamping large areas in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh.
Officials said landfall was expected south of Gopalpur where wind speed was recorded well over 200 km per hour,heightening fears of heavy destruction.
Earlier in the day,thousands fled inland for cover as the wind bent,uprooted trees and rattled windows. Waves as high as 15 feet pounded the coastline.
We have evacuated 1.5 lakh people to cyclone shelters from the blocks likely to be affected by Phailin. Another 20,000 are likely to join those already at the shelter. We have achieved maximum evacuation, Ganjam district collector Krishan Kumar said.
Power supply to the entire district was switched off and diesel gensets,inverters were being used as back-up. All hotels were emptied and people were asked to head to the shelters. Officials said they expected communication lines to break down once Phailin makes landfall.
It was not easy evacuating the area given the reluctance of people to shift to cyclone shelters. In Golabandha,the administration had to warn people that force would be used if they did not shift quickly. Many people had returned,saying they would ride out the storm. We have come to check our house, fisherman T Seshaih said.
L S Rathore,Director General of Meteorology,who described Phailin as a very severe cyclonic storm,said the highest storm surge was expected in Ganjam where 300-600 m of inland area could be inundated.
Rathore said the cyclone would strike at 200-210 kmph and could rise to 240 kmph later. Weather conditions would continue to be that of a very severe cyclonic storm for six hours after landfall. Very heavy rain is expected all over Orissa with exceptionally high rainfall of over 25 cm expected in some places in the state. Heavy rain can be expected in Bihar,Bengal and Chhattisgarh as well, he said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh directed government agencies to extend all possible assistance to the states concerned. Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said 18 helicopters and 12 aircraft were on stand-by for rescue efforts as and when required.
Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth held two meetings during the day to put in place rescue,relief and rehabilitation measures. Senior officials from key ministries Home,Defence,Petroleum,Telecom,Health,Food,Railways,Drinking Water and Sanitation and representatives of the state government will now meet on daily basis to ensure concerted and coordinated relief efforts.
Our main focus is to avoid loss of human life. So far,we have evacuated 4.25 lakh people in Orissa and 1 lakh more in Andhra Pradesh, Union Home Secretary Anil Goswami told reporters.
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.
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has deployed over 50 rescue teams 2,000 personnel of the National Disaster Response Force in Andhra Pradesh,Orissa and West Bengal,positioning rescue and relief teams in vulnerable coastal areas of the three states.
This might be the second biggest evacuation exercise undertaken since 1990 when six lakh people were evacuated in Andhra Pradesh, NDMA vice-chairman M Shashidhar Reddy said.