Powerful Cyclone Hits India’s East Coast, Forcing Evacuation of More Than 1 Million

By Pratik Parija and | May 3, 2019

A category 4 storm with strong winds and heavy rain made its landfall on India’s east coast, with authorities evacuating more than 1 million people to safer places. Flight and train services remained shut.

Cyclone Fani, the worst storm to hit India since 2014, saw wind speed as high as 210 kilometers (130 miles) per hour, according to the country’s weather office. Television channels showed pictures of uprooted trees, broken houses and torn hoardings as strong winds and heavy rains swept Odisha state. There has been no casualty so far, according to the federal disaster management body.

“We have thankfully received no reports of casualties from Odisha after the cyclone’s landfall,” said N.C. Marwah, member of National Disaster Management Agency. “The storm is now moving north and we are expecting it hit West Bengal later today, for which preparations are ongoing.”

Odisha, home to several aluminum units, power plants, coal mines and an oil refinery, is battered by cyclonic storms every year. The state was hit by a super cyclone in 1999 with wind speeds that were estimated to have reached a maximum 270 kilometers an hour, leaving almost 10,000 people dead.

Exploration Suspended

Oil & Natural Gas Corp. has suspended its offshore exploration in the region and has towed five of its six drilling rigs in the Bay of Bengal to the coast as a precautionary measure. It has evacuated almost 500 people working at its fields. State-run National Aluminium Co. is reviewing its mining operations and may shut its refinery in the event of heavy gusts.

Indian Oil Corp., which has a 15-million-tons-a-year refinery at Paradip in coastal Odisha, has taken all necessary steps to control the impact, refineries director B.V. Rama Gopal said on Friday. “We have moved some ships with crude and petroleum products to the high seas for a few days,” he said. “Paradip refinery is designed to withstand cyclones with speed of more than 200 kilometers per hour.”

The navy and the coast guard are on high alert and ships and helicopters are on standby for rescue and relief operations. Offshore oil exploration activities have been suspended. The storm is now expected to weaken as it progresses toward West Bengal, a state adjoining Odisha.

“The eye of the cyclone has moved over the land,” said K.J. Ramesh, director general of the India Meteorological Department. The intensity of the cyclone is weakening, he said.

Heavy Showers

Odisha and West Bengal, which are expected to bear the brunt of the storm, are forecast to get heavy showers on Friday and Saturday, according to the weather office. The two affected states mainly grow rice during the monsoon season, with plantings beginning this month.

India’s neighbor Bangladesh is also on high alert. It ordered evacuation of people to cyclone shelters in 19 coastal districts, according to Disaster Management Secretary Shah Kamal.

All trains have been canceled on a section along the Odisha coast on the Kolkata-Chennai route until Saturday afternoon, according to the Indian Railways. Friday’s flights to and from Bhubneswar must be canceled, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation said in a statement.

Most operations at all the ports on the east coast have been suspended, said Subrat Tripathy, chief executive officer of Dhamra Port in Odisha. “We have also taken out vessels as we can not operate under this severe weather condition.”

Cyclone Fani is likely to have a sustained wind speed of 170-180 kilometers per hour. That compares with Hudhud storm’s wind speed of 180 kilometers in 2014, according to data from the weather office. Cyclone Phailin, that battered Odisha and parts of Andhra Pradesh in 2013, saw surface wind speeds of about 215 kilometers per hour.

–With assistance from Debjit Chakraborty, Sheenu Gupta, Arun Devnath, Rajesh Kumar Singh, Anurag Kotoky, Swansy Afonso and Dhwani Pandya.

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