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Oct 12, 2013 at 11:26am IST

Phailin a 'very severe cyclonic storm', to hit AP, Odisha this evening

Bhubaneswar/Hyderabad: The Met department has said that Phailin is a very severe cyclone storm and its wind speed may go up to 200 and 240 km per hour. Phailin, a storm as big as Hurricane Katrina that left New Orleans a ghost town, is heading towards northern Andhra Pradesh and Odisha and is expected to make landfall at 5:30 pm on Saturday.

It has started raining in Andhra Pradesh as well as Odisha and the Met department has predicted heavy rainfall at most places in the two states for the next 48 hours. Total suspension of fishing operations has been advised.

ALSO SEE Cyclone Phailin a severe storm, to hit Odisha-AP coast, affect 1.2 cr people

The latest satellite images show a very severe cyclonic storm over West-central and adjoining east central Bay of Bengal which is moving northwards for the past six hours. It is at a distance of 320 km southeast of Gopalpur.

High tides are already being seen in the sea at Gopalpur. In Bhubaneswar, it has been raining with a high wind speed, affecting electricity poles and durga puja pandals.

ALSO SEE Live updates: Cyclone Phailin

The cyclone will hit the coast between Paradip in Odisha and Kalingapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. It could hit with wind speeds similar to the cyclone that left 10,000 people dead in 1999 in Odisha.

Carrying their baggage, thousands of people are leaving the port town of Paradip to escape the wrath of the severe cyclonic storm. The people, most of them workers of different industries including Oil Refinery of Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL), Paradip Port Trust (PPT), Paradip Phosphates Limited (PPL), IFFCO and Essar steel plant, have started vacating the town since Thursday. "Over 30,000 people vacated the town and it is still continuing," official sources said.

ALSO SEE Why cyclone Phailin is named so

The port town of Paraip in Jagatsinghpur was the epicentre of 1999 Super Cyclone with Ersame block bearing the maximum brunt of the natural disaster.

Over 2,60,000 people have been evacuated and more are being shifted to safer ground. The Navy, the Air Force, the National Disaster Response Force are on standby. The Odisha government has also asked for RBI's support to provide government payments towards relief expenditure.

The good news is that this time around the Odisha government seems to be much more well prepared in comparison to the super cyclone in 1999. Since then, 247 cyclone shelters have been built in the coastal areas and the people and the rescue team in the state are much more well prepared to face such disasters.

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has appealed to the people not to panic. "I appeal to all to people in Odisha to be calm and not panic. In such disaster situation there are some people who indulge in hoarding and blackmarketing. They won't be spared if they do so," Patnaik said.

The administration says evacuations will be completed by Saturday morning in the four most vulnerable districts - Puri, Khurda, Jagatsinghpur and Ganjam. The Odisha 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.

Evacuations are on in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh too. The Met department has warned of maximum damage to the three north coastal districts of Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Vishakapatnam. The police have relaxed the curfew for 9 hours to enable citizens to stock up on essentials. Government employees on strike against the bifurcation of the state have also resumed duties to enable rescue and rehabilitation operations.

Medical teams of Union Health Ministry are also getting ready to travel to the two states at a short notice. 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.

The IAF has deployed 24 aircraft including its transport planes such as Ilyushin-76, C-130J Super Hercules and the Antonv-32 along with 18 helicopters. "The Defence Minister has directed the armed forces to be on high alert and asked them to be ready to move in for relief operations when required," a Defence Ministry official said in Delhi.

The other regions which are expected to be affected by the cyclone include North Chhattisgarh, South Jharkhand, Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Gangetic West Bengal.

Following are the helpline numbers:

Odisha: 0674-2534177

District control room number:

Mayurbhanj 06792-252759, Jajpur 06728-222648, Gajapati 06815-222943, Dhenkanal 06762-221376 Khurda 06755-220002, Keonjhar 06766-255437, Cuttak 0671-2507842, Ganjam 06811-263978, Puri 06752-223237, Kendrapara 06727-232803, Jagatsinghpur 06724-220368, Balasore 06782-262674, Bhadrak 06784-251881. Andhra Pradesh: 040-23456005/23451043 Fax-040-23451819

(With additional information from PTI)