High alert in Andhra Pradesh as cyclone Helen nears coast, 1 lakh people evacuated

Written by Agencies | Hyderabad | Updated: Nov 22 2013, 20:59pm hrs
A high alert has been sounded in four coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh as cyclonic storm 'Helen' is expected to cross Bay of Bengal and make a landfall close to Machilipatnam in Krishna district on Friday afternoon.

Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy reviewed the situation with Chief Secretary P K Mohanty this morning and asked the official machinery to be fully geared up to evacuate people from low-lying areas to prevent casualties.

The chief minister spoke to collectors of East Godavari, West Godavari, Krishna and Guntur districts over phone and asked to them open relief camps wherever required and evacuate people to safety.

He wanted the district administrations to co-ordinate with National Disaster Response Force, police and other departments in the rescue and relief operations.

Meanwhile, the Indian Coast Guard has despatched its ship Avantibai to rescue 20 fishermen from East Godavari district trapped in the rough sea.

A Chetak helicopter of the Navy is also being pressed into service for the rescue operation, the Navy informed the General Administration department here.

"Our Chetak embarked Vishwast for strategic launch. We also requested for twin-engine helicopter launch," the Navy informed the GAD.

A hundred thousand residents were being evacuated from coastal areas of Andhra Pradesh as a cyclone swirling in the Bay of Bengal was forecast to make landfall with wind speeds up to 120 kph (75 mph).

Cyclone Helen, the second tropical storm to hit the state in six weeks, is likely to cause extensive damage to thatched roofs and huts and disrupt power and communication lines, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said.

Officials were widely praised for a mass evacuation that saved thousands of lives last month when Cyclone Phailin struck, even though at least 43 people were killed and 12 million people affected as homes were destroyed and farmland inundated.

State Disaster Management Commissioner C. Parthasarathy said he was working with the same teams deployed for Phailin to move residents to safety before Helen comes hurtling inland.

"We prepared an evacuation plan," said Parthasarathy. "They are on the job."

Phailin, India's fiercest cyclone in 14 years, battered the coastline of northern Andhra Pradesh and Odisha.

Helen is expected to cause a storm surge of about 1.0-1.5 metres above the tide, potentially inundating low-lying coastal areas and flooding escape routes, the IMD said.

Officials said they were keeping a close eye on the new cyclone as it has changed track from Wednesday, with the latest data showing it was expected to make landfall in Machilipatnam.

Shashidhar Reddy, vice chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority, said he has spoken to district officials who had identified about 100,000 residents who are being evacuated.

Disaster teams have been deployed in six districts - Nellore, Prakasam, Krishna, Guntur, East and West Godavari.