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India races to evacuate coast before monster storm hits

Update: May, 03/2019 - 11:16

BHUBANESWAR — Indian and Bangladesh authorities raced on Friday to complete the evacuation of more than one million people out of the path of an extreme cyclone heading towards the Bay of Bengal coast with winds of up to 200 kilometres per hour.

Major airports were closed in India's eastern states of Odisha and West Bengal and the railway network virtually closed down ahead of the arrival of Extremely Severe Cyclone Fani – expected to be the biggest storm to hit the region in more than two decades – on Friday morning.

More than one million people in the two states have been ordered to leave their homes and the Bangladesh government separately issued evacuation orders for 19 coastal districts and put the army on standby.

The Indian meteorological department is predicting Fani will hit the coast near the Hindu holy city of Puri by about 0400 GMT in Odisha and then sweep up into West Bengal and reach Bangladesh on Saturday, gradually weakening.

It said a storm surge of about 1.5 metres could hit Odisha and flood low-lying areas where in 1999 10,000 people were killed by a cyclone.

A state relief department official said 780,000 people were moved to safer ground by Thursday.

Bishnupada Sethi, special relief commissioner for Odisha, which has a population of 45 million in all, said one million people would have to be moved by the time the storm hits.

Hundreds of thousands more in West Bengal have also been given evacuation orders. Special teams went through holiday villages urging tourists to move to safety.

"We have heard that the cyclone has turned towards Bengal and it will also hit Kolkata. But people should not panic unnecessarily. All precautionary steps are being taken to prevent any loss of life," Kolkata mayor Firhad Hakim told reporters.

Some 3,000 shelters in schools and government buildings have been set up to accommodate more than a million people in Odisha. More than 100,000 dry food packets are ready to be dropped if needed, reports said.

On Thursday the storm was brewing