Cyclone Phailin Nears India As Thousands Flee To Safety

Cyclone Phailin closed in on India on Saturday as thousands of people in low-lying coastal areas fled to safety. The massive cyclone is bigger than the United States’ Hurricane Katrina and is estimated to be half the size of India.

Tens of thousands of villagers in coastal areas were ordered to evacuate their homes and holy day celebrations in coastal Odisha and Andhra Pradesh states were cancelled.

ABC News reports that the US Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center estimated Phailin will come ashore with maximum sustained winds of 167 miles per hour with gusts up to 196 miles per hour. However, the Indian Meteorological Department called for a slightly more conservative estimate of 130-135 miles per hour.

The storm showed no signs of weakening and will likely remain the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane when it makes landfall in India on Saturday evening. If the storm continues on its current path, it will likely cause large-scale power and communications outages. It will also shut down roads and railways.

CNN reports that many people are likening Cyclone Phailin to Odisha Cyclone, called Cyclone 05B, which made landfall in the same area on October 29, 1999. The massive storm caused more than $2 billion in damage, killed more than 10,000 people, and was the strongest tropical cyclone recorded in the Bay of Bengal.

Phailin could be less intense than 05B, but will still bring with it a huge storm surge and massive amounts of rain. The storm surge is expected to reach about 10 feet above the usual tide level and could drown low-lying areas of Odisha’s Ganjam, Khurda, Puri, and Jagatsinghpur districts, as well as Andhra Pradesh’s Srikakulam district.

In preparation for the storm, The Washington Post notes that India’s biggest dry bulk cargo facility, Paradip Port Trust, sent all its ships to sea and shut down all operations. The National Disaster Management Authority also sent a 1,500 person rescue force to Odisha and Andhra Pradesh states.

Cyclone Phailin should make landfall in India around 4 pm local time.