Cyclone Phailin the biggest cyclone in years to hit Orissa is expected to make landfall near Gopalpur in Ganjam district in the eastern state after crossing an area between Paradip in Orissa and Kalingapatnam in AP.
Five districts were in the eye of the storm with IMD chief Dr LS Rathore identifying Ganjam, Khurda, Puri and Jagatsinghpur districts in Orissa and Srikakalum in AP as those that are likely to be the worst hit.
Rathore said the cyclone storm over east central Bay of Bengal currently lay 450 km southeast of Gopalpur and warned that it will be accompanied by a storm surge of up to three metres in the districts that will bear the brunt.
Cyclone Phailin is a very severe cyclone," Rathore said in Delhi. He added that the storm, which will hit the coast at 6 pm, is unlikely to develop into a super cyclone. Phailin was named by Thailand and it means sapphire in Thai.
The US Navy has also forecast that the wind speed will be above 240 kmph. Therefore, the cyclone is not less than any super cyclone for us, special relief commissioner PK Mohapatra told reporters in Bhubaneswar.
Mohapatra said the IMD had declared the 1999 calamity as a super cyclone as the wind speed had crossed 220 kmph. An estimated 9,885 people were killed in the super cyclone that pummelled the state. This time around, the wind speed is not much different than the previous super cyclone," he said.
Squalls with a wind speed of 45-55 kmph to 65 kmph have already started along Orissas 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 state 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.
The East Coast Railway planned to regulate and cancel about 24 passenger trains between Visakhapatanam and Bhadrak on the Howrah-Chennai Main Line route on Saturday.
Authorities began evacuating 64,000 people from the low-lying areas of three vulnerable districts in AP, 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.
Defence minister AK Antony ordered the armed forces to be ready to move in to the two states. Two IAF IL-76 aircraft have already airlifted NDRF teams and equipment to Bhubaneswar.
An anxious Orissa government held meetings and evaluated the developing situation. At least 28 teams of the National Disaster Response Forces (NDRF) are at the disposal of the government for evacuation and relief operations," a senior official said.
So far eight teams of NDRF, reaching having 20 personnel, have been deployed in Puri district, the official said.