An 'extremely severe' cyclonic storm Fani is headed towards Odisha and the east coast of the country forcing the authorities to evacuate lakhs of people to safe zones. Cyclone Fani with wind speeds up to 200 km per hour and heavy rains is expected to make landfall near Puri on Friday.
Cyclone Fani will cross Odisha Coast between Gopalpur and Chandbali around Puri between 8 am and 10 am on Friday. The landfall is likely to continue up to 12 noon and even later. A red alert has been sounded across the coastal areas by the India Meteorological Department (IMD).
At least 14 Odisha districts - Puri, Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara, Balasore, Bhadrak, Ganjam, Khurda, Jajpur, Nayagarh, Cuttack, Gajapati, Mayurbhanj, Dhenkanal and Keonjhar - are expected to bear the brunt of the storm.
The IMD has warned of a storm surge of about 1.5-metre height which may inundate low-lying coastal areas of Ganjam, Khurda, Puri and Jagatsinghpur districts of Odisha at the time of landfall.
West Bengal too will be affected with the districts of East and West Medinipur, South and North 24 Parganas, Howrah, Hooghly, Jhargram besides Kolkata witnessing heavy rainfall.
In Andhra Pradesh, the areas likely to be hit are Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam districts. Coastal Tamil Nadu will also receive rainfall due to Cyclone Fani.
Evacuation and impact
An estimated 10,000 villages and 52 towns in Odisha will be hit by the cyclonic storm. A total of 11,54,475 people in Odisha are being moved to safer areas. Of them, 3,31,794 people had already been shifted till Thursday, 3 pm.
The Odisha government has conveyed to the National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC), the country's top body for handling emergency situations, about the areas expected to be severely affected. The NCM headed by Cabinet Secretary PK Sinha met on Thursday where the Odisha government appraised the officials about the situation.
Action on evacuation is already being taken by the Odisha government and around 900 cyclone shelters have been made ready to house the evacuees.
The Odisha government issued instructions to shift women in their advanced stage of pregnancy to hospitals in Bhubaneswar as part of its evacuation drive in the coastal areas. "As Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had given specific instruction to take care of women, children and elderly persons during the storm, we shifted the pregnant women to hospitals on a priority basis," news agency PTI reported quoting Sangram Mohapatra, the spokesperson at the special relief commissioner's office (SRC).
The Power Ministry has made arrangements to restore power supply in affected areas with least downtime. The Drinking Water and Sanitation Ministry has made arrangements to move additional water supplies in the affected areas and is keeping in readiness packaged drinking water.
The Ministry of Food Processing Industries is keeping in readiness packaged ready-to-eat food. The Health Ministry has mobilised emergency medical teams, medicines and also coordinated with the Red Cross to provide assistance.
It has kept ready 17 public health response teams and five quick response medical teams with emergency drugs. The Ministry of Shipping has disengaged all ships at Paradip Port and has deployed emergency vessels (Tugs).
The Indian Coast Guard and the Indian Navy have deployed ships and helicopters for relief and rescue operations while the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force units in the three states have also been put on standby. Over 4,000 specialised personnel as part of 81 NDRF teams have been deployed.
NDRF chief SN Pradhan told PTI that about 50 teams have been pre-positioned in the coastal areas of Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal while another 31 teams have been kept on standby.
Twenty-eight fully equipped teams have been deployed in and around Puri in Odisha. Similarly, 12 teams have been deployed in Andhra Pradesh and six in West Bengal.
The rest of the teams that comprise about 50 personnel each, have been kept on standby in these states. Pradhan said a Deputy Inspector General (DIG) and a commandant-rank officer have also been tasked to monitor the activities of the rescue and relief teams from the ground in Odisha's capital Bhubaneswar and Puri.
The teams have been equipped with additional boats, satellite phones, medical equipment, medicines, tree cutters, pickup and common mobility vehicles, and other gadgets, he said.
The force has also activated a round-the-clock control room at its headquarters in Bhubaneswar and a team of officials is in constant touch with the IMD and the disaster response units of the three states. NDRF teams have also been kept on alert in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
The spokesperson said the NDRF teams have doctors, paramedics, engineers, deep divers and are equipped with boats, buoys, life jackets, scuba sets and latest communication equipment like quick deployable antenna (QDA), HF/VHF sets so that communication links function even if normal communication network fails.
Rail link affected
A total of 223 trains have been cancelled along the Odisha coastline on the Kolkata-Chennai route, including 140 Mail/Express trains and 83 passenger trains. Railways also pressed into service three special trains to ferry passengers out of Puri.
Another nine trains have been diverted, four others have also been short-terminated.
The trains which have been cancelled include the Howrah-Chennai Central Coromandal Express, Patna-Ernakulam Express, New Delhi-Bhubaneswar Rajdhani Express, Howrah-Hyderabad East Coast Express and the Bhubaneswar-Rameswaram Express.
The New Delhi-Bhubaneswar Rajdhani Express, New Delhi-Puri Nandan Kanan Express, Puri-New Delhi Purushottam Express and the New Delhi-Puri Purushottam Express which were scheduled to run on Thursday have been cancelled as well.
The Railways has also cancelled trains which were to ply on Friday. These include the Bhubaneswar-New Delhi Rajdhani Express and the Puri-New Delhi Nandan Kanan Express.
All the airlines have cancelled flights to and from the Bhubaneswar airport for May 3 and no flight will depart or arrive at the Kolkata airport between 9.30 pm on May 3 and 6 pm on May 4, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said in an advisory.
Civil Aviation Minister Suresh Prabhu has requested airlines to offer assistance in rescue and relief operations. The aviation regulator said that "resumption of flights" at Bhubaneswar and Kolkata airports "will be with positive clearance from their respective air traffic control".
The civil aviation minister said all authorities concerned have been alerted to be ready to deal with cyclone Fani and the situation will be monitored at the highest level. "Alerted all concerned to be ready to deal with Cyclone Fani. Airports Authority of India issued alert to all coastal airports to ensure all precautions, SOPs (standard operating procedures) put in place immediately," Prabhu tweeted.
Exhorting the aviation sector to rise to the occasion, he tweeted, "All airlines are requested to offer all assistance for rescue and relief operations in view of cyclone Fani. All relief material should be airlifted to be delivered to officially designated agencies."
IndiGo issued a travel advisory on Twitter, saying, "Due to Cyclone Fani, flights to and from Visakhapatnam have been cancelled for May 2. The airline said its flights to and from Bhubaneswar were "disrupted" on Thursday and that all flights to and from the Odisha city have been cancelled for Friday. Vistara airline also issued a travel update on the micro-blogging site.
Fani is the most severe cyclonic storm since the super cyclone of 1999 that claimed close to 10,000 lives and left a trail of destruction in vast swathes of Odisha, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Centre (JWTC).
India Meteorological Department (IMD) sources said it is also the first cyclonic storm of such severity to have formed in April in India's oceanic neighbourhood in 43 years. While India's east coast is prone to cyclones, Odisha is probably twice as vulnerable when compared to other states. The state has endured 98 cyclones between 1891 and 2000.