Authorities in eastern India have started evacuating tens of thousands of residents from low-lying areas as a “severe” cyclone barrels across the Bay of Bengal towards the coast.
Cyclone Phailin is expected to hit Orissa and Andhra Pradesh states on Saturday, bringing winds of 124-134 miles per hour and heavy rains to the two states and adjoining areas of West Bengal and Jharkhand.
"There is no chance of the cyclone (Phailin) veering away," Laxman Singh Rathore, director general of the India Meteorological Department, told reporters on Thursday.
Authorities are setting up emergency shelters for the people who will need to be moved from vulnerable areas near the sea. In Andhra Pradesh, about 64,000 have been told to leave their homes.
The army, navy and air force are on stand-by to assist with emergency relief. Severe cyclones such as Phailin are rare in the region, but have been very deadly in the past. A super-cyclone in 1999 killed more than 10,000 people in Orissa.
With the cyclone approaching, residents have been stocking up on food and candles. There have been reports of panic buying, with shelves stripped of basic commodities.
Apart from the potential loss of life, authorities are also concerned about the impact of Cyclone Phailin on the region’s rice crops.
"If it comes, it will definitely affect the rice crop," said G. Nagendra, president of the Andhra Pradesh Rice Millers Federation.