A "very severe" cyclone barreled towards east coast tonight with 220 kmph wind and is likely to hit Odisha and Andhra Pradesh on October 12th evening, forcing evacuation of lakhs of people and evoking deadly memories of the 1999 super cyclone that pounded Odisha.
As Odisha and AP braced for 'Cyclone Phailin' whose likely intensity has triggered a debate, the Armed Forces were put on high alert with NDMA estimating that around 1.2 crore people are expected to be affected by the storm. Nearly 10,000 people were killed in the 1999 super cyclone.
Cyclone Phailin, which is being compared by some experts to Hurricane Katrina which devastated parts of the US in 2005 killing about 1,800 people, is expected to make landfall near Gopalpur in Ganjam district in Odisha around 6 PM after crossing an area between Paradip in the state and Kalingapatnam in AP.
Five districts were in the eye of the storm with IMD Chief Dr L S Rathore identifying Ganjam, Khurda, Puri and Jagatsinghpur districts in Odisha and Srikakalum in AP as those likely to be the worst hit. He warned that the cyclone will be accompanied by a storm surge of up to three metres in the districts that will bear the brunt.
High alert has also been sounded in East Godavari district. Necessary equipment, material and men are kept ready to evacuate the public to safer places and to meet the contingencies. Fishermen have been advised not to venture into the sea.
Phailin Likely to Make Landfall at 6 pm on Oct 12
The cyclone is currently 400 km southeast of Gopalpur in Ganjam, the latest IMD bulletin said tonight. It is moving at a speed of 15 kmph.
"Cyclone Phailin is a very severe cyclone," Rathore said but felt the storm is unlikely to develop into a super cyclone. Phailin was named by Thailand and it means sapphire in Thai.
IMD expects its landfall will take place at about 6 pm tomorrow.
"We expect that the cyclone Phailin will make landfall at about 6 pm on Saturday, October 12," Dr Mrutunjay Mohapatra, Chief of India's Cyclone Warning Division, said.
Mohapatra said as the system (cyclone) is moving inside the sea at the rate of 15 km per hour and lay centred at 5.30 pm at 400 km southeast of Gopalpur, it was expected that it would make landfall at 6 pm.
Phailin, which had already been categorised as Very Severe Cyclonic Storm (VSCS), has been moving inside the sea where wind speed is about 210-220 kmph with gusting of 230 kmph.
The system will move at 5.30 am on October 12, when the wind speed inside the sea remains 210-220 kmph with gusting 235 kmph. The situation and circumstances will remain same till it makes landfall with a speed of 210 to 220 kmph with gusting 235 kmph.
After hitting the land, the system will weaken into severe cyclonic storm from its previous status of a Very Severe Cyclonic Storm. Then, the IMD data said, the wind speed will remain between 90 kmph to 110 kmph gusting to 110 kmph at about 5.30 am on the next day (13 October).
At about 5.30 am on October 13, the wind speed would be 50 to 60 kmph to gusting 70 kmph. The system would again lose strength and become a deep depression.
Next day on October 14, the system will further lose intensity and turn into only a depression with wind speed of 40-50 kmph gusting to 60 kmph
A US meteorologist has warned that Phailin could be worse than Katrina.
"Phailin is already worse than what the IMD is forecasting," said Eric Holthaus, meteorologist for Quartz, a US-based online magazine which covers global economy-related issues.
"It has exploded from tropical storm strength to potentially the equivalent of a category 5 hurricane," he was quoted as saying in the Quartz website. Category 5 hurricane is the most powerful. "While strengthening, the storm has grown to nearly half the size of India itself."
Operations at Paradip port have been suspended and thousands of industrial workers have started leaving the town.
The port town of Paraip in Jagatsinghpur was the epicentre of 1999 Super Cyclone with Ersame block bearing the maximum brunt of the natural disaster.
Squalls with a wind speed of 45-55 kmph to 65 kmph have already started along Odisha coast since morning under the impact of Phailin. About 25 cm of rain has been predicted in 24 hours in the affected districts due to the cyclone.
The Odisha health department cancelled holidays and leave of all doctors in view of the impending situation even as the state government set a target of "zero casualty" and ordered speedy evacuation of people in seven coastal districts.
East Coast Railway planned to regulate and cancel about 24 passenger trains between Visakhapatnam and Bhadrak on the Howrah-Chennai Main Line route tomorrow.
Authorities began evacuating 64,000 people from the low-lying areas of three vulnerable districts in Andhra Pradesh, state Revenue Minister N. Raghuveera Reddy said.
Emergency food supplies and shelters for people expected to flee the heavy winds and rains were also being readied in the vulnerable districts. Disaster management teams were also kept in readiness.
The IAF has deployed 24 aircraft including its transport planes such as Ilyushin-76, C-130J Super Hercules and the Antonv-32 along with 18 helicopters.
"The Defence Minister has directed the armed forces to be on high alert and asked them to be ready to move in for relief operations when required," a Defence Ministry official said in Delhi.
The Vishakhapatnam-based Eastern Naval Command has kept multiple Indian Navy diving teams with inflatable rafts in standby mode at important locations which could be put into operations at short notices.
"Besides these, Navy has put some Chetak and UH-3H helicopters in standby for launching rescue and relief operations, if necessary. Disaster relief ships, as required, are also being kept by the Navy in readiness," the official said.
Army has moved its Command and control element to Bhubaneswar under GOC Madhya Bharat (MB) Area. One Engineer column from Bagdogra and one Medical column from Gopalpur have started moving to Bhubneshwar. Infantry columns are also on standby at Barrackpore.
Control Rooms Numbers
Meanwhile, Odisha government has set up control rooms to make available information. The helpline number of the Odisha Central Control Room is 0674-2534177. The district control room numbers are :
- Jajpur 06728-222648
- Gajapati 06815-222943
- Dhenkanal 06762-221376
- Khurda 06755-220002
- Keonjhar 06766-255437
- Cuttack 0671-2507842
- Ganjam 06811-263978
- Puri 06752-223237
- Kendrapara 06727-232803
- Jagatsinghpur 06724-220368
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