8 lakh evacuated in India ahead of cyclone Fani

India mounted its biggest-ever evacuation effort pulling back an estimated 800,000 people from low-lying areas along the coast of the Bay of Bengal in Odisha as the extremely severe cyclonic storm ‘Fani’ that is set to hit the eastern state on Friday afternoon holding out the threat of massive tidal waves reaching up to 1.5 metres, officials said Thursday.

As per the latest bulletin of the India Meteorological Department (IMD), ‘Fani,’ the most sever cyclonic storm in two decades, lay centred over West Central Bay of Bengal about 430 km south-southwest of the temple town of Puri on the coast in Odisha, 225 km south-southeast of Vishakhapatnam, another coastal city, in Andhra Pradesh and 650 km south-southwest of Digha, a popular tourist resort in West Bengal.

It is likely to move north-north eastwards and cross the Odisha coast near Puri on May 3 with maximum sustained wind speed of 170-180 kmph and gusting up to 200 kmph, Odisha’s Special Relief Commissioner (SRC) B P Sethi said. The cyclone is being tracked by Doppler Weather Radars at Chennai, Vishakhapatnam and Machilipatnam, he said.

Residents from low-lying and vulnerable areas of coastal districts are being shifted to safe places like 880 cyclone centres, school and college buildings and other structures, he said. The evacuation exercise will be completed by Thursday evening keeping in mind the forecast of massive tides that could surge up to 1.5 metres during the landfall, the SRC said.

According to the SRC, the evacuation of eight lakh people is the largest-ever evacuation operation in the country. At least 14 Odisha districts - Puri, Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara, Balasore, Bhadrak, Ganjam, Khurda, Jajpur, Nayagarh, Cuttack, Gajapati, Mayurbhanj, Dhenkanal and Keonjhar - are likely to bear the brunt of the cyclone, which is also likely to impact Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who reviewed the preparedness on Wednesday evening, said there was a need to give special attention to pregnant women, children, elderly people and differently-abled persons. Arrangements have been made to start free kitchens to provide cooked food to the evacuees, the SRC said. Over one lakh dry food packets have been kept ready for air dropping in the areas to be affected by ‘Fani’, the most severe cyclonic storm since the super cyclone of 1999 that claimed close to 10,000 lives and devastated large parts of Odisha.

The navy, air force, army and coast guard have been put on high alert and personnel of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF) and fire service sent to vulnerable areas to assist the administration, an official said. The East Coast Railway (ECoR) has cancelled over 103 trains for the safety and security of passengers in view of the cyclone, a railway official said.

Three special trains will run from Puri to Howrah and Shalimar in West Bengal on Thursday for the evacuation of tourists and passengers, he said, adding train services between Bhadrak and Vizianagaram would remain cancelled for at least two days from Thursday evening. The IMD has forecast rainfall at most places, heavy to very heavy rainfall at a few places and extremely heavy rain at isolated places in coastal Odisha and the interior districts of the state on May three.

Several areas are likely to receive rainfall up to 20 cm under the impact of the cyclone, Director of the Meteorological Centre in Bhubaneswar, H R Biswas said.
As sea condition will be rough and phenomenal over Northwest Bay of Bengal off Odisha and West Bengal till May 4, fishermen have been advised not to venture into sea in this period.

All universities and colleges in Ganjam, Gajapati, Puri, Khurda, Nayagarh, Cuttack, Jajpur, Bhadrak, Kendrapara, Jagatsinghpur, Balasore and Mayurbhanj districts to remain closed for three days from May 2. All operations were stopped at Paradip Port and Cautionary Distant Warning Signal Number three was hoisted in all ports in Odisha. The Third Stage warning is issued at least 24 hours in advance of adverse weather over coastal areas.