New Delhi: Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde on Saturday said the cyclonic storm Phailin is inching closer to the coastal town of Gopalpur, and added that over 5.5 lakh people have been evacuated so far from Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.
"In about another 30 to 45 minutes, it will come closer to Gopalpur (in Odisha). It will hit Odisha the most and then hit the three districts of Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. It will hit eight districts in Odisha," Shinde told media here.
"We have been making arrangements (to counter it) and the evacuation work also began from day before yesterday. 5,50,000 people have been evacuated so far. About 4,50,000 people have been evacuated from Odisha and one lakh from these three districts of Andhra," he added.
Shinde said an alert is being issued for those who are not ready to move out.
The Home Minister informed that 18 helicopters and 12 aircrafts are on standby to tackle any emergency situation.
Shinde further said the administration, police, NDRF and the defence forces are ready to combat any challenge.
At least 600 buildings have been identified as cyclone shelters, and people are being evacuated from areas near the coast, including Ganjam, Puri, Khordha and Jagatsinghapur Districts in Odisha.
"The current observation of wind speed in Gopalpur is around 150 kilometers per hour, and may hit the coasts with a wind speed of 200-220 kilometers per hour," Director General of the IMD, LS Rathore, said.
Rathore also confirmed that the maximum storm surge will be felt in Odisha`s Ganjam District.
Meanwhile in New Delhi, Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth on Saturday asserted that the Centre has put all disaster preparedness measures in place so that the impact of the natural disaster is minimized, and urged the people living along the coast to exercise prudence.
"In the Central Government, we are fully geared to meeting this situation, because it is a challenge we need to meet by assuring coordination (and) this we have sought to do. All the wings of government, including the NDRS, the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, the Coast Guard and other departments, whether it is Railways or Power or Water Resources or Health, they are all geared up to ensure that every measure that can be put into place for ensuring the safety and security of the affected population is put into place," Seth said.
"Above all, the people living in the coastal areas would themselves have to exercise prudence and caution," he added.
Shedding light on the preparations for relief operations, Seth said the NDRF has deployed a number of teams both in Odisha and in Andhra Pradesh. In Odisha, 26 NDRF teams along with three on standby have been deployed. In Andhra Pradesh, there are 15 teams of NDRF, with additional two on standby.
"Besides these, there are an additional 30 to 25 teams, which can be deployed at short notice. ... Control rooms have been set up within every Ministry, which will work around the clock," Seth said.
Meanwhile, the Army has deployed an engineering task force, six composite relief units, four columns in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. The Air Force, on its part, has put in place frontline C-17 Globemasters, C-130 J Super Hercules and IL-76 transport planes to Odisha to carry out relief operations.
The Eastern Naval Command of the Indian Navy has assumed the highest degree of readiness to render all necessary humanitarian assistance.
Two Indian Naval ships, including the Landing Platform Dock INS Jalashwa are standing by to proceed with dispatch to the most affected areas of Odisha in the cyclone`s aftermath.
INS Jalashwa, the second largest combatant of the Indian Navy, is ideally equipped to undertake Humanitarian Aid Distress Relief (HADR), evacuation, logistic support and hospital ship operations.
Both the ships are poised with additional divers, doctors, inflatable rubber boats, integral helicopters and relief material that include food, tentage, clothes, medicines, blankets etc, in quantities sufficient to sustain over 5000 personnel for three days.
Six advance diving teams with inflatable boats, rescue material and satellite communication have left for Odisha by road and will operate from INS Chilka, 50 km north of Gopalapatnam, where the cyclone is expected to make landfall.
These personnel will be assisted by four platoons from the local naval station and doctors from INHS Nivarini in their rescue and relief efforts.
The Eastern Naval Command is monitoring the developments closely and is in constant communication with the state administration to augment rescue and relief operations.
Six helicopters are standing by at the Naval Air Station INS Dega to undertake reconnaissance, rescue, casualty evacuation and air drop of relief material to the stranded.
Additionally, the telecom department has also prepared itself to ensure that communication links are stable during the expected disaster.
The Indian Railways has cancelled 56 trains and also short terminated and diverted a number of trains in view of the sever Cyclone Phailin.
"As of now, we have adopted the strategy of canceling the trains wherever it is necessary to do so. We have as of now cancelled 56 trains, which include 17 mail and express trains also. And there are around 16 diversions. There are around four to five partially cancelled trains and there are certain trains where we have short terminated them," said Director of Public Relations for Railways Anil Saxena.
"The necessary items like food, medicine, drinking water etc they have been made available at the vantage places. Our medical trains, accident-relief trains they all have been kept on standby," he added.
Railways Minister Mallikarjun Kharge has given instructions to his men to take care of the passengers and to ensure safety and minimum inconvenience to the people.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy said that all measures have been put in place to guarantee that there is minimum damage post the storm caused by Cyclone Phailin.
Reddy said this after he held a review meeting with the Collectors of the coastal districts.
"People living in coastal areas have to take a lot of precautions. There is a possibility of heavy rainfall and strong winds. I have informed the authorities to move people living in low-lying areas to safer region. More than one lakh people are moved to safer places. Cattle and other animals are also shifted to safer places," said Reddy.
"Senior IAS officials are closely monitoring the situation in these districts. Army, Navy, Defence, NDRF and revenue departments are in their positions," he added.
The Met Department has also predicted rains in parts of West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.