As Cyclone Titli intensified into a "very severe cyclonic storm" over the Bay of Bengal and inched towards the coast with speeds going up to 165 kmph, the Odisha government Wednesday evacuated over 3 lakh people living in low lying areas in five coastal districts.
The state government, which has been on its toes, geared up its machinery to face the calamity which is likely to make a landfall close to Gopalpur early on Thursday.
"We have already evacuated three lakh people and more may be shifted to safer places in view of the very severe cyclone," Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik told reporters after reviewing the situation twice during the day.
Patnaik, who visited the Special Relief Commissioner's (SRC) office Wednesday night to verify preparedness, said, "The cyclone is likely to make landfall at 5 am tomorrow."
The evacuation was carried out from five coastal districts of Ganjam, Khurda, Puri, Jagatsinghpur and Kendrapara.
Meanwhile, in a video conference with Union Cabinet Secretary P K Sinha, Chief Secretary A P Padhi informed that the state has taken precautions to deal with the situation.
Of the 15 teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), 13 have been deployed along with the Orissa Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF) at vulnerable places.
"We are fully prepared to face the calamity," Padhi told reporters after the video conference in which chief secretaries of West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh also took part.
In its latest bulletin, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said the very severe cyclonic storm, over the west-central Bay of Bengal, moved north-northwestwards with a speed of about 11 kmph during the past 6 hours and lay centred at about 180 kms south-southeast of Gopalpur and 130 km southeast of Kalingapatnam of Andhra Pradesh.
"It is very likely to intensify slightly further in the next 6 hours. It is very likely to move north-northwestwards and cross Odisha and adjoining north Andhra Pradesh coasts close to Gopalpur around morning," said H R Biswas, Director of the Meteorological Centre, Bhubaneswar.
Thereafter, it is very likely to re-curve northeastwards, move towards Gangetic West Bengal across Odisha and weaken gradually, Biswas said.
After landfall, Titli is likely to maintain the intensity of cyclone till the evening of Thursday, while moving northeastwards across Odisha, Biswas said.
As a result, the gale wind speed of 60-90 kmph is very likely to prevail over interior parts adjacent to south coastal Odisha till Thursday afternoon and wind speed of 60-70 kmph gusting to 80 kmph over interior districts adjacent to the north coastal region from noon to night.
It also said rainfall would be accompanied by gale wind speed reaching 140 to 150 kmph and gusting to 165 kmph along and off Odisha and north Andhra Pradesh coasts.
Apart from making all arrangement for rescue and relief operations, the chief minister also ordered the closure of all schools, colleges and Anganwadi centres on Thursday and Friday in view of the IMD's forecast of heavy to very heavy rainfall across the state.
The chief secretary said NDRF and ODRAF personnel have been positioned in vulnerable districts.
"We have not yet sought the help of Army. If required, we may go for it," Padhi said.
An East Coast Railway (ECoR) official said train services will remain suspended between Khurda Road and Vizianagaram from both directions after 10 pm Wednesday till further notice. In view of the very severe cyclonic storm, IndiGo Airline has cancelled five flights to and from Bhubaneswar.
While several areas in coastal Odisha were lashed by rain Wednesday, the IMD has forecast "heavy to very heavy rainfall" at several places and "extremely heavy rainfall" at isolated areas till Thursday under the impact of the 'very severe' cyclonic storm which has been gaining strength.
Districts like Ganjam, Gajapati, Puri, Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara, Khurda, Nayagarh, Cuttack, Jajpur, Bhadrak and Balasore are likely to receive heavy to very heavy rainfall till Thursday, the IMD said.
It also forecasts heavy to very heavy rainfall for Kandhamal, Boudh and Dhenkanal districts from Thursday.
The sea condition is very high over the west-central Bay of Bengal. It is very likely to be phenomenal over the west-central and the adjoining north Bay of Bengal and along and off the south Odisha coast till Thursday, it said.
A storm surge of the height of about 1 metre above astronomical tide is very likely to inundate the low-lying areas of Ganjam, Khurda and Puri districts, it said.
The IMD advised total suspension of fishing operations and shifting of coastal hutment dwellers to safe places. Fishermen along the Odisha coast and central and north Bay of Bengal were advised not to venture into sea till Friday.
In view of rough sea conditions, the IMD has also advised hoisting of great danger signal GD-10 at Gopalpur and Puri and GD-9 at Paradip and Chandbali ports in Odisha.
Special Relief Commissioner B P Sethi said the state government was prepared to face possible floods in view of the heavy rainfall across the state.
Sethi said the state government has already informed the Air Force and Navy about the situation and may take their help if required.
Around 300 motor boats have been arranged to assist in rescue operation as there is a likelihood of flood situation due to the possibility of heavy rains till October 11.
All the 836 cyclone and flood shelters have been kept prepared and adequate relief materials arranged, the SRC added.
(With inputs from agencies.)