Towns evacuate, tourists flee as cyclone churns towards Indian northeast coast

Towns evacuate, tourists flee as cyclone churns towards Indian northeast coast
Towns evacuate, tourists flee as cyclone churns towards Indian northeast coast

India has evacuatedmore than 200,000 people along its northeast coastline by boat, bus and trainahead of a severe cyclone due to make landfall on Friday, with many villagerspiling household possessions on to trucks before fleeing their homes.

Severe cyclonicstorm Fani was lying in the Bay of Bengal about 420 km (260 miles)south-southwest of the Hindu temple town of Puri where special trains were puton to evacuate tourists and the beaches were empty. In total, about 800,000people are expected to be evacuated from low-lying areas of the eastern stateof Odisha to cyclone shelters, schools and other buildings, authorities said.

"We aremaximising efforts at all levels for evacuation," Odisha's Special ReliefCommissioner Bishnupada Sethi told Reuters.

Fani was generatingmaximum sustained winds of 170-180 km (105-111 miles) per hour, the state-runIndia Meteorological Department said. Cyclone tracker Tropical Storm Risk ratedFani a mid-range category 3 storm. Authorities have also shut down operationsat two major ports – Paradip and Visakhapatnamon – and ships have been orderedto move out to avoid damage.

In Paradip,television footage showed residents piling bicycles, sewing machines and gascylinders on to small trucks and leaving for any of nearly 900 shelterssupplied with food, water and medicines. Odisha state government has deployedhundreds of disaster management personnel, closed schools and colleges andasked doctors and other health officials not to go on leave until May 15.

India's cyclone season can last from April to December, when severe storms batter coastal cities and cause widespread deaths and damage to crops and property in both India and neighbouring Bangladesh. Technological advancements have helped meteorologists to predict weather patterns well in advance, giving authorities more time to prepare.

In 1999, asuper-cyclone battered the coast of Odisha for 30 hours, killing 10,000 people.A mass evacuation of nearly a million people saved thousands of lives in 2013.

The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) has sent 50 teams across four coastal states, including Odisha. The NDRF has also put 32 teams equipped with boats, tree cutters, medical supplies, telecoms gear and other equipment on standby.

"I think weare fully prepared," Satya Narayan Pradhan, NDRF director general, toldstate TV. 

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