Also see: Odisha, AP Brace For Phailin: Updates
'Phailin', a very severe cyclonic storm, said to be the second strongest after the disastrous super-cyclone of 1999, today struck the Odisha coast, bringing in its wake torrential rains and wind speeds of over 200 kmph in the state and in the neighbouring north coastal Andhra Pradesh.
Darkness enveloped wide swathes of the coastal districts of Odisha, especially Ganjam, whose Gopalpur-on-sea was the entry point for the storm uprooting trees and electric poles. People were forced to remain indoors by the pounding rains and vehicular traffic came to a grinding halt.
Broken glass pieces, wood shreds and asbestos sheets flew like killer projectiles in these two adjoining cities, moments after the severe cyclone 'Phailin' slammed into Gopalpur beach.
The roads in these twin cities were empty as strong wind howled across hitting closed doors and windows of the houses deserted by the locals.
People living in Berhampur, the largest town in Ganjam district, jostled in one corner of residential buildings as even concrete structures shook by the combined battering of winds and heavy rains.
Many vehicles in Berhampore toppled by the effect of the strong winds about 45 minutes after the land fall of the cyclone.
Heavy to very heavy rainfall were also widespread in the districts of Gajapati, Khurda, Puri, Jagatsinghpur, Nayagarh, Cuttack, Bhadrak and Kendrapara in coastal region besides state capital Bhubaneshwar.
However, the extent of damage wreaked by the cyclone was not immediately available.
Five people were killed in Odisha in the heavy rains ahead of the storm. Of them, three persons, including a woman, were killed after uprooted trees fell on them in the state capital and at Khalikote and Polsara in Ganjam district, police said.
The cyclone made its landfall "very close to Gopalpur town" around 9 pm and has just started crossing the coast in Odisha, IMD Director General L S Rathore told reporters in New Delhi just a little later.
"Still there is scope the speed to go up as the cyclone will remain very severe for six hours. Post landfall, there will be no large change in the intensity," he said, adding that for another 12 to 24 hours, there will be moderate rains in large parts of east India.
He denied that 'Phailin' was a super cyclone.
The 'eye' or centre of the cyclone is estimated to be 15 kilometers in spread and its intensity will continue till Sunday morning, Met officials said.
Rathore said that the areas likely to suffer maximum damage are the stretch between Kalingaptam and Paradip while adding that Gopalpur will be the epicentre.
As Phailin closed in, water level along the Odisha coast rose. Heavy to very heavy rains were reported from the districts of Gajapati, Ganjam, Khurda, Puri, Jagatsinghpur, Nayagarh, Cuttack, Bhadrak and Kendrapara in coastal region.
"The cyclone, which is moving at a speed of 15 kmph is expected to hit the coast near Gopalpur from 6 to 8 PM today and is likely to stay for six hours before moving ahead," L S Rathore had told reporters in New Delhi. The wind speed could reach up to 240 kmph at a later stage, he had said.
The department also predicted extremely heavy rains in Andhra Pradesh and Odisha. Rains are also expected to lash parts of West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, East UP and Bihar.
"Even after its landfall, the cyclone impact is likely to stay for 6-8 hours after which, it will turn into a cyclone and then into deep depression," he said.
Under impact of 'Phailin', the entire coastal region is being lashed by heavy rains today besides squally wind of above 70 kmph. Uprooting of electric poles and tree branches have been reported in various places.
"The system would move northwestwards and cross north Andhra Pradesh and Odisha coasts between Kalingapatnam and Paradip close to Gopalpur (Odisha) by the evening as a very severe cyclonic storm with a maximum sustained wind speed of 210-220 kmph," an IMD bulletin said.
The districts likely to experience tidal surge are Ganjam, Puri, Khurda, Jagatsinghpur and Kendrapara. The administration of Balasore and Bhadrak have also been put on alert, Special Relief Commissioner, Odisha, P K Mohapatra said.
In Andhra Pradesh, 1,29,100 people from 294 villages in Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam districts were shifted to a total of 115 relief camps, an official release said.
Yesterday, 64,000 people in the north coastal districts of Srikakulam, Vizianagaram, Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh were evacuated to safer places.
Vizianagaram Collector Kantilal Dande said 10,000 to 15,000 people living in vulnerable areas are being evacuated and they are monitoring the situation on a minute-to-minute basis.
The East Godavari district administration shifted fishermen from Uppada-Kakinada area to safer places in view of the cyclone.
Irrigation officials are monitoring levels in water bodies in the coastal district, where medical teams have been kept ready, they said, adding, "We are expecting the intensity of cyclone to be more in the night."
Fishermen have been advised not to venture into the sea for the next 72 hours. Special control rooms have been set up in Kakinada, Ramachandrapuram and Amalapuram towns to monitor the situation.
Thirteen special officers have been deputed to assess the situation on the Andhra Pradesh coastline and 63 relief camps have been opened in the district.
Naval and Coast Guard services have been kept on standby in case of emergency.
The US Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, has said 'Phailin' is expected to break the Indian Ocean intensity record set by the 1999 Cyclone. Nearly 10,000 people were killed in the super cyclone of 1999 in Odisha.
Troops of Bison division of Indian Army moved to Srikakulam and Visakhapatnam districts late last night to assist the respective district administrations in relief and rescue operations.
"Four teams consisting approximately 500 army men moved to coastal district with relief material and medical arrangements," a defence release said in Visakhapatnam.
The columns are equipped with mechanical power boats, life jackets and life saving medicine, it added.
NDMA said it has deployed nearly 2,000 personnel of the National Disaster Response Force in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal.
29 teams of NDRF have been deployed along with rescue equipment in Odisha. In Andhra Pradesh, 15 teams have been deployed and four additional teams are also being rushed from Tamil Nadu, while seven teams have been deployed in West Bengal.
The Centre said that 5 lakh tonnes of foodgrains is kept ready for distribution to victims of high intensity cyclone Phailin.
"We are ready with 5 lakh tonnes of foodgrains for distribution to cyclone-affected people in Andhra Pradesh and Odisha," Food Minister K V Thomas told reporters.
The foodgrains are available in government godowns in the respective states. "The centre and state governments are watching the situation. If more foodgrains are required, we will allocate," he said.
All trains between Howrah and Visakhapatnam have been suspended and power supply switched off along the Odisha coastline, and three coastal districts in Andhra Pradesh as a precautionary measure.
Flights and trains from Odisha capital Bhubaneshwar have also been suspended.
At least 10 flights of Air India, Indigo and Jet Airways scheduled to arrive or take off from the airport here remained cancelled, director of Biju Patnaik International Airport Sarad Kumar told PTI.
Nearly eight lakh people were evacuated, with over seven lakhs in Odisha.
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.
Srikakulam district, bordering Odisha, started receiving heavy rainfall under the cyclone's impact since morning.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh directed that all possible assistance be extended to the states which are on alert for cyclone 'Phailin' after reviewing the situation soon after his return from an overseas tour.
The Prime Minister's Office said Singh was briefed by the Cabinet Secretary immediately upon his return from Indonesia. He was apprised about the arrangements which have been put in place to deal with the crisis.
"PM was briefed by the Cabinet Secretary on the arrangements that have been put in place to deal with the impact of the cyclone," the PMO said in a tweet.
According to reports, Sonia Gandhi has also been in constant touch with the Union Home Minister to take a stock of the situation in cyclone-hit Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.
She also said that the government and Congress would do everything to stand beside the cyclone-hit states.
Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy told reporters after a high-level review meeting in the afternoon that "all possible precautions" have been taken to ensure there was no loss of life due to the super cyclone.
"Our preparedness is good. We have taken all precautions required. Beyond that there is nothing we can do," he said .
He said out of 22,994 fishing boats in coastal districts, only 22 remained in sea and have not reached the shore yet. "But we have information that these boats and the fishermen are at a safe place. We are monitoring their movement," Kiran added.
In West Bengal, disaster management, civil defence and rescue teams have been deputed in Digha, Shankarpur, Contai, Mandarmoni, Diamond Harbour and some areas of the Sundarban
The MET office predicted heavy to very heavy rains at at some places over East and West Midnapore, North and South 24-Parganas, Howrah, Hooghly, Bankura, Burdwan and Purulia districts in the next 48-hours. Kolkata would experience light to medium rainfall.
Also see: Cyclone Watch: Phailin Updates