Bhubaneshwar: As Cyclone Fani triggered downpour coupled with squally wind in coastal Odisha on Thursday, the state government moved 11 lakh people to safety and advised the public to remain indoor on Friday, ahead of its landfall around 9.30 am close to Puri.
The extremely severe cyclonic storm moved menacingly close to the Odisha coast and will make the landfall in the morning, much before the earlier forecast of 3 pm.
Chief Secretary A P Padhi said the cyclone is likely to hit the coast very close to the pilgrim town of Puri around 9.30 am on Friday and the entire process of landfall will take four to five hours.
Padhi warned people that remaining indoor during the entire landfall period is a must.
"There may be a lull before the storm, but it will be the most dangerous phase and people should be extremely careful and keep indoor," he said.
All shops, business establishments, private and government offices except those associated with relief and rescue operations will remain closed in 11 coastal districts as a precautionary measure, he said.
Moderate to heavy rainfall accompanied by squally wind have begun in several of these districts and the sea got increasingly rough.
Over 11 lakh people in 10,000 odd villages and 52 urban local bodies were shifted to cyclone shelters and other safe houses, officials said.
"The evacuation process, carried out on a war footing, is almost complete," said an official.
Over one lakh dry food packets have been kept ready for air dropping for which two choppers requisitioned, Special Relief Commissioner B P Sethi said.
Fani is billed as 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 the state, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Centre.
Lugging their valuables, people were seen boarding buses and trucks, or walking to safer places amid drizzle on a windy day.
Fani, according to sources, has gathered speed and is rolling dangerously towards the coast clocking 17 km per hour.
The latest India Meteorological Department bulletin said it lay centred over west-central Bay of Bengal about 275 km south-southwest of Puri.
Leave of all doctors and health officials have been cancelled till May 15, Padhi said.
State police chief R P Sharma said leave of all police personnel have been cancelled.
"Emergency control is to operate round-the-clock with helpline number for guiding passengers. No staff is to be allowed to go on leave for the next three days," it said in New Delhi.
Three special trains were run from Puri to Howrah and Shalimar in West Bengal on Thursday to facilitate the evacuation of tourists, he said, adding that train services between Bhadrak and Vizianagaram stood cancelled for at least two days from Thursday evening.
Flight operations from Bhubaneswar airport is also suspended for 24 hours from Thursday midnight.
India's biggest oil and gas producer ONGC has removed close to 500 of its employees from offshore installations in the Bay of Bengal and moved drilling rigs to safer locations.
Sources privy to the development said operations at Paradip and Gopalpur Ports in Odisha and Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh have been shut and ships have been ordered to move out to sea to avoid damage. The refineries are operating but with all precautions in place.
After crossing Odisha, the cyclone is likely to move towards West Bengal before tapering off. It is, however, still likely to impact parts of the northeast, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
There is forecast of massive tides that could surge up to 1.5 metres during the landfall, Sethi said. Fishermen have been advised against venturing into the sea.