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Mass Evacuations in India as Monster Cyclone Approaches

October 12th 2013

Population Boom

A monstrous cyclone that may be among the most powerful storms ever recorded in the Bay of Bengal started to bear down on the eastern coast of India on Saturday with heavy rains and high winds.

Indian authorities warned late Saturday morning that the storm, called Cyclone Phailin, would probably make landfall by 6 p.m. Saturday near Gopalpur, Odisha, a largely rural area. They called Phailin a “very severe cyclonic storm” with sustained winds of 136 miles per hour and gusts reaching nearly 150 m.p.h.

Some 440,000 people have already been evacuated from the path of the storm, M. Shashidhar Reddy, vice chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority, said at a news conference in New Delhi on Saturday afternoon.

 

The Indian predictions have so far been less alarming than those from meteorological authorities in the United States. Late Friday, the United States Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center said that Phailin had sustained winds of 161 m.p.h., with gusts reaching 196 m.p.h. – making it similar to a Category 5 hurricane, the most severe. American meteorological authorities have appeared on Indian TV channels and have almost universally sounded more concerned about the coming storm than their Indian counterparts.

Indian authorities predicted a storm surge of as much as 10 feet, high enough to inundate low-lying areas in the states of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, both of which lie southwest of Kolkata. Rainfall is expected to be heavy in some places, with as much as 10 inches of rain falling from Saturday to Monday, the India Meteorological Department said.

Forecasters were predicting extensive damage to the region’s traditional wood and bamboo houses, serious crop losses and the disruption of rail and road traffic because of extensive flooding.

Officials ordered hundreds of thousands of villagers to leave their homes and take shelter in safer buildings. Tourists were evacuated from hotels in the region, which is just southwest of the major metropolitan area of Kolkata.

“We have been preparing for the last five days,” said P. K. Mohapatra, a special relief commissioner in Odisha, according to the Indian news media. “We have pressed the national disaster management force, air force and army for any eventuality.”

The storm is likely to be the strongest storm to hit India in at least 14 years, and it comes in the midst of a crippling strike in Andhra Pradesh by government workers, who have shut down much of the state’s electrical grid over the past week. After hearing a plea from the state’s chief minister, workers agreed to restore power to much of Andhra Pradesh on Friday. Andhra Pradesh has a population of 82 million, and any major disruptions could have huge consequences in terms of the number of people affected.

Odisha, with a population of nearly 42 million, is one of India’s poorest states, with a largely agricultural population that could be devastated by the storm.

Malavika Malawahare contributed reporting.


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