A CYCLONE heading towards India's southeast coast intensified on Thursday, disaster management and weather officials said, warning tens of thousands of farmers to save their crops before the storm reaches land in the next 72 hours.
Packing wind speeds of up to 185 kph (115 mph), cyclone Phailin is moving in from the Bay of Bengal and is forecast to hit between Kalingapatnam in Andhra Pradesh state and Paradip in Odisha state on the evening of Oct. 12.
The neighboring state of West Bengal, and the Andaman and Nicobar islands, are also expected to experience heavy rains, gale force winds and storm surges.
"The cyclone is definitely coming and it's going to be severe one, as its current speed is 100 kph (62 mph)," Shashidhar Reddy, vice chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority, told a news conference.
"It is gaining an extra speed of 10 kph every three hours."
India's weather office said damage to homes, power and telecoms disruptions and flooding were likely, and urged authorities to suspend fishing operations and consider evacuating coastal residents.
The Indian Meteorological Department also called on tens of thousands of farmers in the rice and cotton-growing states to save their crops.
"Farmers have 48 hours to prepare," said director general L. S. Rathore. "We have asked them to harvest if their crops are ready, to bundle the crops together to minimise the damage or to drain out any water stagnating in their fields."
Authorities in the affected states began stocking shelters with rations, put disaster response teams on standby, and cancelled government employees' holidays as Phailin - some 800 km (500 miles) from the Indian coastline - moved closer.
The country's cyclone season runs from April to December, with severe storms often causing dozens of deaths, evacuations of tens of thousands of people from low-lying villages and wide damage to crops and property.
In 1999, a super cyclone battered the coast of Odisha for 30 hours with wind speeds reaching 300 kph. It killed 10,000 people.
The Odisha government cancelled holidays for civil servants in vulnerable areas during the Hindu festival of Dussehra and ordered relief and rescue officials to spread out.
"We will start evacuation of people from low-lying areas from the morning of Friday," said Odisha's Revenue and Disaster Management Department Minister Surya Narayan Patro.
He said food rations were sent to cyclone centres, schools and other buildings on elevated areas where people can shelter.
Disaster response units and fire personnel are on standby, control rooms are being set up and satellite phones have been sent to district heads, to ensure communications despite possible disruptions, he added.
In neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, government workers, who have been on a strike for almost a week over a political decision to divide the state, came back to work in case of an emergency.
Helicopters and boats are being positioned in strategic spots and mobile service providers have been asked to make sure damage to communications towers is repaired immediately.