ICHAPURAM/BHUBANESWAR, India: Rain and wind lashed India’s east coast yesterday, forcing more than 400,000 people to flee to storm shelters as one of the country’s largest cyclones closed in, threatening to cut a wide swathe of devastation through farmland and fishing hamlets.
Filling most of the Bay of Bengal, Cyclone Phailin was about 200km offshore by noon on Saturday, satellite images showed, and was expected to hit land by nightfall.
It was on the verge of becoming a ‘super cyclone’, and was expected to affect 12 million people, officials said.
“This is one of the largest evacuations undertaken in India,” said Shashidhar Reddy, vice chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority, who estimated that more than 440,000 people had been evacuated.
But the size of the storm made extensive damage to property more likely, he told reporters in New Delhi.
“Our priority is to minimise loss of life.”
In Donkuru, a fishing village in the southeastern state of Andhra Pradesh that is expected to catch the eye of the storm, people said they hesitated to leave because they had small children, despite buses provided by the authorities to take them away.
Amid howling winds, a group huddled at a bus stop waiting for a ride out of town while the wind snapped tree branches like toothpicks and the rain hammered down.
“We’re waiting for the bus, but it’s not coming,” said L Ram, an anxious fisherman.
Nearby, a woman cradled her one-and-a-half year old son in one arm and struggled with a plastic bag filled with clothes on the other.
“I have a small child, so I thought, how will I leave?” asked Achamma, 25, as she clutched on to the boy, Ganesh.
At the coastal front of the village, roll after roll after roll of power packed waves crashed onto the beach.
In a statement, the India Meteorological Department said Phailin was packing winds of between 210kph and 220kph and was expected to cause a 3.4-m surge in sea levels when it hit the coast.
The weather department warned against extensive damage to mud houses, the major disruption of power and communication lines, and the flooding of rail tracks as well as escape routes set up to flee disasters, with flying debris another threat. Heavy rains left lush green fields sodden with water along the Andhra Pradesh coast.
“We are ready to evacuate. If the waves come higher, the whole place will vanish,” said Jagdesh Dasari, 35, the wiry-haired chief of the fishing village of Mogadhalupadu, which has 2,500 residents, as the rain sheeted down.
In neighbouring Odisha state, Muslims and Hindus flocked to mosques and temples to pray Phailin would not wreak the kind of havoc left by a similar storm 14 years ago that killed 10,000 people. — Reuters