NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Twelve million people along India's eastern coast face mass disruption as a powerful cyclone bears down on the region in the next 24 hours, the head of the National Disaster Management Authority (NMDA) said on Friday.
Meteorologists predict Phailin could be the most catastrophic storm to hit India in 14 years, when a super cyclone pounded Odisha, leaving 10,000 people dead.
Now in the Bay of Bengal, Cyclone Phailin is forecast to reach the coast of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha states on Saturday evening, bringing gale-force winds, lashing rains, storm surges and widespread flooding.
"The affected populations ... should be about 1.2 crores (12 million)," Shashidhar Reddy, the NMDA's vice-chairman told a news conference.
Mass evacuations are underway and around 300,000 people living in coastal villages have so far been moved to cyclone shelters and schools built on elevated areas, he said, adding that extensive damage to crops, property and roads was expected.
The Indian army, navy and air force are also on standby and 1,600 members of the National Disaster Response Force have been deployed for rescue and relief operations in districts such as Ganjan, Puri, Jagatsinghpur, Srikakulam and Vizianagaram, which lie directly in the path of storm.
India's disaster preparedness has improved dramatically in recent years, and aid workers praised precautions taken by authorities for Phailin such as early warning, pre-positioning of rations in shelters and orderly evacuations.
But they warn that preparations could be tested by Phailin's predicted wind speeds of more than 315 kph (196 mph) and wave surges that some forecasts say could reach 6 metres (20 feet).
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