India's east coast braced yesterday for a cyclone covering half the country, with tens of thousands of residents in low-lying areas fleeing their homes after authorities forecast a risk to life and extensive damage once the storm hits land.
Satellite images showed Cyclone Phailin 600 kilometres off the coast in the Bay of Bengal and likely to make landfall tonight. The images showed the storm covering an area roughly half the size of India.
Some forecasters likened its size and intensity to that of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the US Gulf coast and New Orleans in 2005.
The Indian Meteorological Department described Phailin as a "very severe cyclonic storm" with wind speeds of 210-220km/h and said it would hit between Kalingapatnam and the major port of Paradip in Orissa state.
"We plan to evacuate about 100,000 families in Ganjam district by tomorrow morning," Orissa state's special relief commissioner, Pradeep Kumar Mohapatra, said on Friday.
Video: 'Red alert' as massive cyclone bears down on India
The government broadcast cyclone warnings through loudspeakers and on radio and television as the first winds were felt on the coast and in the state capital, Bhubaneswar. Residents reported 3.5-metre waves, but fishermen were reluctant to leave their boats.
Helicopters were on standby in neighbouring West Bengal, ready to drop food packets into isolated areas, officials said.
Indian authorities warned of extensive damage to crops, village dwellings and old buildings, as well as disruption to power, water and rail services.
London-based storm tracking service Tropical Storm Risk placed Phailin in the most intense Category 5 of powerful storms, evoking memories of a devastating "super cyclone" that killed 10,000 people on India's east coast in 1999. That storm battered Odisha for 30 hours with wind speeds reaching 300km/h.
- Typhoon Nari gained strength as it swept towards the Philippines, prompting warnings of more brutal weather for tens of millions of people living in and around the flood-prone capital.
Nari has been upgraded from a tropical storm to a typhoon as its wind gusts increased to 160 kilometres an hour. Manila is about 135 kilometres south of where the eye of the storm is expected to make landfall, and government weather forecaster Bernie Belen said the capital would probably again endure floods.
"Even without a storm, heavy rains can cause floods in Manila," Belen said. Heavy rains are expected to persist across much of the main island of Luzon throughout today.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse