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Powerful Cyclone Racing Towards India

800,000 People To be Moved To Safety

Hundreds of thousands of people evacuated parts of India’s eastern coast Thursday as a powerful cyclone moved north, bringing fears of widespread destruction in the coming hours.

Cyclone Fani was expected to hit the coast Friday with heavy rain, powerful winds and storm surge in some low-lying areas. More than 100 million people are potentially in the path of the storm, AccuWeather reported.

The India Meteorological Department classified Fani as an “extremely severe cyclonic storm,” the equivalent of a Category 3 or 4 hurricane, and said it would land with sustained winds of more than 100 miles per hour and gusts of up to 120 m.p.h.

As much as eight inches of rain is forecast to fall on northern parts of the state of Andhra Pradesh and on the state of Odisha. The storm is expected to continue north, hitting the neighboring countries of Bangladesh and Bhutan, as well as parts of the Indian states of West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Meghalaya.

“I appeal to everyone that the children, women, old and disabled be evacuated first,” Naveen Patnaik, chief minister of Odisha, said Wednesday, Indian media reported. “All precautions have been taken to face the cyclone. We are fully prepared to tackle the cyclone Fani.”

Mr. Patnaik said that about 800,000 people were expected to be moved to safer places by Thursday evening.

More than 850 storm shelters have been opened along Odisha’s coast, said Bishnupada Sethi, the state’s special relief commissioner. Each can hold about 1,000 people, along with livestock.

The authorities have been preparing for the storm since Saturday, when forecasts first indicated its strength and possible path, Mr. Sethi said. The disaster relief department has been using television, loudspeakers, radio and text messages to warn residents about the dangers of the storm.

Schools have been closed, and fishermen have been asked to return their boats to shore. But not everyone at risk has been ready to evacuate.

“People are reluctant to leave their homes, though, which is problematic,” Mr. Sethi said.

Tourists have been asked to leave the city of Puri, a Hindu pilgrimage destination on the Bay of Bengal. Just east of Puri, several veterinarians were on standby to treat injured animals from the Balukhand-Konark Wildlife Sanctuary.

The sanctuary is home to deer, monkeys, hyenas, golden jackals, porcupines, squirrels, jungle cats, mongoose, lizards and birds, Harshavardhan Udgata, a district forest officer, told News18, a television channel.

If, as expected, the sanctuary takes a direct hit from the storm, officials could have to open the sanctuary’s gates, “so that animals should have the freedom to save their lives,” he said.

The Bay of Bengal has experienced many of the world’s deadliest tropical cyclones, the result of warm air and water temperatures producing storms that strike the large populations along the coast.

A cyclone in 1999 killed more than 10,000 people, most of them in Odisha, where it lingered for more than a day, flooding villages and coastal areas and blowing apart bridges and houses.

The state was much better prepared for Cyclone Phailin in 2013, the most powerful storm to hit the Indian coast since 1999. After the cyclone 20 years ago, Odisha set up a disaster management agency and invested in building shelters, strengthening coastal embankments and preparing evacuation routes, according to a World Bank report.

In 2013, about one million people were evacuated, more than twice as many as in 1999. The storm killed 45 people, and preparations helped avoid greater casualties, the World Bank said.

“All of these efforts bore fruit when Cyclone Phailin made landfall,” the report said.”               

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