Tropical Cyclone Phailin intensified rapidly in the Bay of Bengal on Thursday and is now headed for a landfall along the eastern coast of India. Estimated top sustained winds increased from 65 mph to 155 mph in just 24 hours, according to Dr. Jeff Masters of Weather Underground.
Cyclone Phailin India Red Alert – 4 Lakh Evacuated India’s East Coast
More than 250,000 villagers have fled their homes as a huge cyclone gathers strength and heads towards India’s east coast.
Cyclone Phailin – which is already so large it has nearly filled the Bay of Bengal – is expected to be the fiercest storm to hit India since a devastating cyclone killed 10,000 people 14 years ago.
Large waves have already been pounding beaches in the state of Andhra Pradesh before the storm is due to hit.
Villagers along the coast were evacuated to schools in the north of the state and in neighbouring Odisha, while panic buying drove up food prices.
Authorities have been evacuating villagers along the coast to government-run shelters and schools in three districts of Andhra Pradesh state and five districts of Orissa state.
People watch as waves from the Bay of Bengal approach the shore at Podampata village
People in the coastal village of Podampata watch as waves gather force
But many villagers said they had not been told to evacuate, and others were refusing to leave their homes.
“Of course I’m scared, but where will I move with my family?” said Kuramayya, 38, a fisherman from the village of Bandharuvanipeta, while 12ft waves crashed behind him. “We can’t leave our boats behind.”
Satellite images showed Phailin some 310 miles (500km) off the coast and likely to make landfall tonight (3pm-6pm UK time), with widespread flooding expected.
Some forecasters likened its size and intensity to hurricane Katrina, which devastated the US Gulf coast and New Orleans in 2005.
The Indian Meteorological Department said Phailin would hit between Kalingapatnam in Andhra Pradesh and the port of Paradip in Odisha state and predicted storm surges 10ft above normal tides.
Cyclone Phailin (image from Tropical Storm Risk)
The storm is due to hit Andhra Pradesh and Odisha Pic: Tropical Storm Risk
It described it as a “very severe cyclonic storm” with winds of 130-135 mph but resisted upgrading it to a stronger “super cyclone”.
However, London-based storm tracking experts Tropical Storm Risk said Phailin was a super cyclone and placed it in the most powerful Category 5 of storms.
That was the same strength of storm that battered Odisha in 1999, killing thousands.
“Phailin will be no less than the 1999 super cyclone,” said Odisha state’s Special Relief Commissioner Pradeep Kumar Mohapatra.
He said half a million people were expected to move to shelters in the state.