BHUBANESHWAR, India (AP) — Officials ordered tens of thousands of coastal villagers to flee their homes today as a massive cyclone — so large it filled nearly the entire Bay of Bengal — gathered strength and headed toward India’s eastern seaboard.
Officials canceled holy day celebrations and stockpiled emergency supplies in coastal Orissa and Andhra Pradesh states, with forecasters saying Cyclone Phailin will hit the region Saturday evening.
The Indian Meteorological Department warned that Phailin was a “very severe cyclonic storm” that was expected to hit with maximum sustained winds of 130-135 miles per hour. If the storm continues on its current path without weakening, it is expected to cause large-scale power and communications outages and shut down road and rail links, officials said. There would also be extensive damage to crops.
Satellite images of the storm showed its spinning tails reaching nearly 1,000 miles from the east coast of India to the west coast of Myanmar, an area roughly the size of France.
Using trucks and buses, authorities evacuated 40,000 people from 40 villages to government-run shelters, schools and buildings in five districts of Orissa state, said Surya Narayan Patra, the state revenue and disaster management minister.
Patra said authorities plan to take another 100,000 people to safer areas before the cyclone hits.
Authorities also began evacuating 64,000 people from the low-lying areas of three vulnerable districts in neighboring Andhra Pradesh state, said state Revenue Minister N. Raghuveera Reddy.