India braces for massive cyclone
Published 11/10/2013 | 12:11
Tens of thousands of villagers in eastern India have been ordered to flee their homes as a massive cyclone - so large it filled nearly the entire Bay of Bengal - gathered strength and headed towards the coast.
Officials cancelled holy day celebrations and stockpiled emergency supplies in coastal Orissa and Andhra Pradesh states, with forecasters saying Cyclone Phailin will hit the region on Saturday evening.
The Indian Meteorological Department warned that Phailin was a "very severe cyclonic storm" that was expected to hit with maximum sustained winds of 130-135mph (210-220 kph). If the storm continues on its current path without weakening, it is expected to cause large-scale power cuts and communications disruption and shut down road and rail links. There would also be extensive damage to crops.
Satellite images of the storm showed its spinning tails reaching nearly 1,000 miles (1,600 km) from the east coast of India to the west coast of Burma, an area roughly the size of France.
Using trucks and buses, authorities evacuated 40,000 people from 40 villages to government-run shelters, schools and buildings in five districts of Orissa state, said Surya Narayan Patra, the state revenue and disaster management minister.
Mr Patra said authorities plan to take another 100,000 people to safer areas before the cyclone hits.
"No one will be allowed to stay in mud and thatched houses in the coastal areas," he said.
Authorities also began evacuating 64,000 people from the low-lying areas of three vulnerable districts in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh state.
Officials have been stockpiling emergency food supplies, and setting up shelters for people expected to flee the heavy winds and rains. The Indian air force said four transport planes and 18 helicopters were being kept ready for relief operations.
Weather forecasters had been predicting waves up to seven feet high (two metres), but warned that the storm has been gaining strength and its impact could be severe.
The Bay of Bengal has been the scene of the some of the deadliest storms in recent history. A 1999 Orissa cyclone killed 10,000 people.