Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 July 2019

India cyclone: 800,000 evacuated from eastern districts as landfall nears

Some 1,000 shelters in schools and government buildings have been set up to accommodate more than a million people

Nearly 800,000 people in India's eastern coastal districts have been evacuated ahead of the expected arrival of a major cyclone packing winds of up to 200 kilometres per hour, officials said Thursday.

The Indian weather service said Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm Fani is expected to make landfall on Friday afternoon near the Hindu holy town of Puri.

Along with "extremely heavy" rainfall in places, a storm surge of about 1.5 metres (five feet) is "very likely" to inundate some low-lying areas of Odisha, according to the Indian Meterological Department.

A state relief department official said that 780,000 people were moved to safer places overnight from at least 13 districts of Odisha state that will bear the brunt of the powerful cyclone.

"More people are being moved to safer places," an official from the department said.

Some 3,000 shelters in schools and government buildings have been set up to accommodate more than a million people. More than 100,000 dry food packets are ready to be dropped if needed, reports said.

On Thursday the storm, which reports said was the biggest to hit eastern India in nearly two decades, was brewing in the Bay of Bengal some 450 kilometres offshore and moving westwards.

The cyclone was expected to pack sustained wind speeds of 180-190 kmh, bringing gusts of up to 200 kmh, and is equivalent in strength to a Category 3 to 4 hurricane.

It will be the fourth such storm to hit the country's east coast in three decades.

India's weather office has warned that the high speed winds can uproot trees, flatten crops, damage homes, power and communication infrastructure along with flooding in low lying areas.

Dozens of officials were making announcements on hand-held megaphones across the coastal belt asking residents to leave their homes.

Forecasters have warned of the "total destruction" of thatched houses, the bending and uprooting of power and communication poles, the "flooding of escape routes" and damage to crops in some areas.

More than 100 trains have been cancelled in past 48 hours, according to Indian Railways. Three special trains were running from Puri to evacuate pilgrims and tourists.

Authorities have asked tourists to leave coastal areas and avoid unnecessary travel. Special buses have been deployed in Puri and other towns.

The Airports Authority of India also issued an advisory to all the coastal airports to take adequate precautions.

Bangladesh disaster management chief Mohammad Hashim said that 3,600 cyclone shelters had been opened in 13 coastal districts.

The country's weather bureau has told deep-sea fishing vessels to stay near the coast, while inland water transport activities were suspended.

The neighbouring coastal states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have also been put on high alert.

Storms regularly hit eastern and southeastern India between April and December. In 2017, Cyclone Ockhi left nearly 250 people dead and more than 600 missing in Tamil Nadu and Kerala states.

Odisha had to evacuate some 300,000 people last October when its coastal districts were battered by cyclone Titli, with winds up to 150 kmh (95 miles) per hour and heavy rains.

Updated: May 2, 2019 05:57 PM

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