(TELESUR) – India has accelerated efforts to evacuate more than a million people along its northeast coastline as a cyclone intensifies ahead of landfall Friday, with thousands of villagers piling household possessions onto trucks before fleeing their homes.
Severe cyclonic storm Fani was churning up the Bay of Bengal about 275 km (171 miles) south-southwest of the temple town of Puri where special trains were commissioned to evacuate tourists — beaches along the coast lay completely abandoned.
In total, about 1.2 million people are expected to be evacuated from the low-lying areas of 15 districts in the eastern state of Odisha to cyclone shelters, schools, and other buildings, authorities said. More than 800,000 have left so far.
“We are maximizing efforts at all levels for evacuation,” Odisha’s Special Relief Commissioner Bishnupada Sethi told Reuters.
Fani was generating maximum sustained winds of 170-180 km (105-111 miles) per hour, the state-run India Meteorological Department (IMD) said. Cyclone tracker Tropical Storm Risk rated Fani a Category 4 storm, a notch below the most severe level.
The cyclone will make landfall before Friday afternoon, the IMD said.
The navy has deployed seven warships and has six planes and seven helicopters on standby along with divers, rubber boats, medical teams, and relief materials.
In Paradip, television footage showed residents piling bicycles, sewing machines, and gas cylinders onto small trucks and leaving for any of nearly 900 shelters supplied with food, water, and medicine.
Odisha state government has deployed hundreds of disaster management personnel, closed schools and colleges and asked 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 causing widespread death and damaging crops and property in both India and neighboring Bangladesh.
Many airlines said they would waive cancellation charges for flights to Odisha’s capital, Bhubaneswar, and Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal.
Kolkata airport will be shut from 9:30 pm local time Friday till 6:00 pm Saturday while Bhubaneswar airport will be shut Friday.