Bhubaneswar: Flights to and from the Bhubaneswar airport have been cancelled for May 3 as 'extremely severe' cyclonic storm Fani heads towards Odisha and the east coast, even as Civil Aviation Minister Suresh Prabhu Thursday requested airlines to offer assistance in rescue and relief operations.
The cyclone is expected to hit the Odisha coast on Friday. Other states on the eastern coast, such as West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, are also expected to be affected by the storm.
Flights from Bhubaneswar airport stand "cancelled" on May 3 and no flight will depart or arrive at the Kolkata airport between 9.30 pm of May 3 and 6 pm of May 4, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said in an advisory on Thursday evening.
Exhorting the aviation sector to rise to the occasion, he tweeted, "All airlines are requested to offer all assistance for rescue and relief operations in view of cyclone Fani. All relief material should be airlifted to be delivered to officially designated agencies."
Fani is the most severe cyclonic storm since the super cyclone of 1999 that claimed close to 10,000 lives and left a trail of destruction in vast swathes of Odisha, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Centre (JWTC).
India Meteorological Department (IMD) sources said it is also the first cyclonic storm of such severity to have formed in April in India's oceanic neighbourhood in 43 years.
As per the latest bulletin of the India Meteorological Department (IMD), Fani lay centred over West Central Bay of Bengal about 430 km south-southwest of Puri in Odisha, 225 km south-southeast of Vishakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh and 650 km south-southwest of Digha in West Bengal.
It is likely to move north-northeastwards and cross the Odisha coast near Puri on May 3 evening with maximum sustained wind speed of 170-180 kmph and gusting up to 200 kmph, Special Relief Commissioner (SRC) B P Sethi said.
Mass evacuation underway
India will use boats, buses and trains to evacuate 800,000 people along its east coast on Thursday ahead of an approaching cyclone that is forecast to make landfall within 24 hours, officials said. The state of Odisha has also moved in thousands of disaster management personnel to help those living in mud-and-thatch homes in low-lying areas take shelter. At least 19 districts of Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, besides Kolkata are likely to be affected by "extremely severe" cyclonic storm "Fani".
"We are making best efforts to inform them about the cyclone and move these vulnerable people to cyclone shelters," Bishnupada Sethi, the state's special relief commissioner, informed. Around 900 cyclone shelters have been made ready to house evacuees while troops of the Indian Navy, Indian Coast Guard and 78 teams of the National Disaster response Force (NDRF) have been requisitioned for deployment.
Tourists have also been advised to leave the coastal temple town of Puri, a sacred destination for Hindu pilgrims.
India's cyclone season generally lasts from April to December with severe storms leading to evacuations of tens of thousands, widespread deaths and damage to crops and property, both in India and Bangladesh.
Tropical Storm Risk cyclone tracker labelled Fani a category 3 storm on a scale of a low 1 to a powerful 5.
An IMD bulletin in the evening said storm surge of about 1.5 metre above astronomical tide is likely to inundate low lying areas of Ganjam, Khurda, Puri and Jagatsinghpur districts of Odisha at the time of possible landfall.
223 trains cancelled
The East Coast Railway (ECoR) has cancelled over 223 trains for the safety and security of passengers in view of the cyclone, an ECoR official said.
These include 140 Mail/Express trains and 83 passenger trains.
Three special trains will run from Puri to Howrah and Shalimar in West Bengal on Thursday for the evacuation of tourists and passengers, he said, adding train services between Bhadrak and Vizianagaram are cancelled for at least two days from Thursday evening.
There will be no movement of trains in the Bhadrak-Bhubaneswar-Puri-Visakhapatnam section at the time when the cyclonic storm is scheduled to pass the Odisha coast.
The rail passengers have been advised to plan their journey accordingly.
East Coast Express and Coromondal Express will not run from Howrah on May 2. Besides, trains for Puri from Howrah on May 2 night stand cancelled.
Trains from Bengaluru, Chennai and Secundrabad to Howrah in the evening of May 2 have been cancelled, the official said.
Similarly, all train services between Puri and Bhubaneswar and incoming trains touching Puri and Bhubaneswar on May 3 have also been cancelled, the official said.
Indian Naval ships at Visakhapatnam and Chennai are standing-by to proceed to the most affected areas to undertake Humanitarian Aid Distress Relief (HADR), evacuation, logistic support including providing medical aid, the Navy said in a statement.
Aircraft of the Indian Navy are also in a state of readiness at two locations for emergency services.
The Indian Air Force has also been alerted and their services will be utilised if necessary, Odisha Special Relief Commissioner (SRC) B P Sethi said, adding the state government has taken up the matter with the NDRF.
He said 20 units of the Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF) and 335 units of fire services have also been kept in a state of preparedness.
All the 880 cyclone centres have been readied for proper evacuation of people from low-lying areas of the coastal districts starting on May 2. Boats have also been kept in a state of readiness, the SRC said.
Two helicopters will be stationed nearby for a state for emergency and additional NDRF personnel for rescue and relief operation.
The National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC), the country's top body to deal with emergency situations has been meeting regularly to take stock of the situation.
The NDRF is deploying 41 teams of 45 personnel each in Andhra Pradesh (eight teams), Odisha (28) and West Bengal (five teams). In addition, the NDRF is keeping on standby 13 teams in West Bengal and 10 in Andhra Pradesh, a Central government official said.
A home ministry statement said based on the decision of the first meeting of the NCMC, headed by Cabinet Secretary Sinha, the central government has already released advance financial assistance of Rs 1,086 crore to Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal.
The IMD issued its 'yellow' warning and suggested total suspension of fishing activities operations, extensive evacuation from coastal areas, diversion or suspension of rail and road traffic. It also asked the people in areas likely to be affected by the storm to remain indoors and advised against operation of motor boats and small ships in the sea.
Distant warning signal II (DW-II) has been hoisted in all ports of Odisha and fishermen have been advised not to venture into the sea from Wednesday, the IMD said.
A red alert has been sounded in Srikakulam district of north coastal Andhra Pradesh Wednesday as heavy rains with winds gusting up to 120 kmph are likely under the influence of the extremely severe cyclonic storm Fani.
Director of the regional meteorological centre, H R Biswas said the impact of Cyclone 'Fani' is likely to be much more severe than 'Titli', which had hit the Odisha-Andhra coast last year and killed at least 60 people.
The administration of Gajapati, Ganjam, Khurda, Puri, Nayagarh, Cuttack, Jagatsinghpur, Jajpur, Bhadrak, Kendrapara, Balasore, Kandhamal, Rayagada, Angul, Dhenkanal, Keonjhar Mayurbhanj districts of Odisha have been put on high alert.
Impact in other areas
Light to moderate rainfall at many places with heavy falls at isolated places is very likely in Kerala, at a few places in north coastal Tamil Nadu and south coastal Andhra Pradesh till Wednesday. Wind speeds may range from 30-50kms across Kerala over the next couple of days and sea waves may reach as high as 2.5 meters, the department informed.
Heavy rainfall is very likely over north coastal Andhra Pradesh on Thursday and light to moderate rainfall at most places with heavy to very heavy rainfall at a few places a day later.
South coastal Odisha is expected to receive heavy to very heavy rainfall on Thursday. Rainfall is likely to increase at most places with heavy to very heavy rains at a few places with "extremely heavy falls" at isolated places over coastal Odisha and its adjoining districts of interior Odisha on Thursday.
Light to moderate rainfall at most places with heavy falls at isolated places are very likely over coastal districts of West Bengal on May 3 and heavy to very heavy rainfall at a few places with extremely heavy falls at isolated places over Gangetic West Bengal a day later.