Cyclone Fani batters Odisha with winds, heavy rains

Fishermen pull a boat to higher ground on a beach in Puri in the eastern state of Odisha. AFP

Packing heavy rain and winds with speeds of up to 175 kmph, cyclonic storm 'Fani' slammed into the Odisha coast Friday morning, uprooting trees and sweeping away thatched huts, as large areas of the seaside pilgrim town of Puri were left submerged.

The extremely severe cyclonic storm made landfall at around 8 a.m. in Puri but thanks to enough advance warning, about 11 lakh people had already been evacuated from vulnerable and low-lying areas of at least 11 coastal districts by Thursday.

"It will take around three hours for the entire landfall process to be completed" by 11 a.m., Director of Regional Meteorological Centre in Bhubaneswar, H R Biswas, said.

The cyclonic system, whose eye is around 28 km wide, is moving at around 30 kmph, Biswas said. But within the system, the winds are reaching speeds of up to 175 kilometers per hour that may go up to 200 kmph, leaving in their wake uprooted trees and thatched structures, including in the state capital Bhubaneswar.

High winds are also sweeping across several coastal districts like Ganjam, Khurda and Gajapati, Special Relief Commissioner (SRC) B P Sethi said.

He said the nearly 11 lakh people evacuated earlier from about 10,000 villages and 52 urban areas have been accommodated in over 4,000 shelters, including 880 specially designed cyclone centres.

Arrangements have been made to start free kitchens at the cyclone shelters. Around 4,000 such shelters, including 880 specially designed cyclone centres, are housing the evacuees.

Over one lakh dry food packets have been kept ready for air dropping for which two choppers requisitioned, Sethi said.

No casualty has so far been reported from any part of the state, Sethi said adding the government is fully prepared to deal with the situation.

After the landfall, the system is passing through Khurda, Cuttack, Jajpur, Bhadrak and Balasore before entering West Bengal, Sethi said, adding that Bhubaneswar is likely to be hit by high-velocity wind of around 140 kmph.

A cyclone making a landfall implies that the first arm of the cyclone has reached the land.

The Indian Coast Guard has positioned 34 disaster relief teams at different spots at Vishakhapatnam, Chennai, Gopalpur, Haldia, Frazergunj and Kolkata. It has also deployed four ships to handle any exigency.

The Indian Navy has also deployed three ships with relief material and medical teams so that it can launch rescue operation after the cyclone hits the coastline of Odisha.

Navy spokesperson Capt D K Sharma said several aircraft have also been kept on standby for immediate deployment to carry out aerial survey.

"Helicopters are also kept standby for joining in rescue operation and for air dropping of relief material when required," Capt Sharma said.

Fani is billed as 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.

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has appealed to people to remain indoors during the period of the cyclone and said all arrangements have been made for the safety and security of the people.

All shops, business establishments, private and government offices except those associated with relief and rescue operations will remain closed in 11 coastal districts as a precautionary measure.

On Thursday, a massive exodus was underway in coastal Odisha as hundreds of thousands of people left their home, on foot and by vehicles, in probably the largest evacuation ahead of a natural disaster in the country.

More than 220 trains on the Kolkata-Chennai route have been cancelled until Saturday.

Aviation regulator DGCA announced that flights in and out of Bhubaneswar airport stand cancelled on Friday. Consequently, the operations of various domestic airlines have been affected.

The Central government has also made preparations.

The Power Ministry has made arrangements to restore power supply in affected areas with the least downtime. The Drinking Water and Sanitation Ministry plans to move additional water supplies in the affected areas and is keeping in readiness packaged drinking water.

The Ministry of Food Processing Industries said it 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 Department of Telecommunication has issued orders to all operators to allow free SMS for cyclone-related messages and inter-operability of mobile networks by other operators. The Petroleum Ministry has ensured the availability of sufficient petroleum and oil in the affected areas.

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