Cyclone Phailin has made landfall on India's east coast as hundreds of thousands of people fled their homes. Phailin had nearly filled the entire Bay of Bengal, an area the size of France.
Cyclone Phailin made landfall on India's east coast Saturday with wind speeds of up to 200 kilometers per hour (124 mph), L.S. Rathore, the director general of the Indian Meteorogical Office, told reporters in New Delhi..
The office had issued a red alert on Saturday, warning of the "very severe" cyclone's impending landfall as authorities continued to evacuate villages along the coast in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Orissa.
So far, more than 400,000 people have fled to government shelters, according to Marri Shashidhar Reddy, vice chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority.
"This is one of the larges evacuations undertaken in India," Reddy said.
The Indian Meteorological Department has warned of extensive damage to mud houses, power and communication disruptions, and flooding of rail tracks and escape routes.
"No one will be allowed to stay in mud and thatched houses in the coastal areas," said Surya Narayan Patro, Orissa state's top disaster management official.
Meanwhile, the US Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center said that Phailin's winds could reach 315 kilometers per hour. The London-based Tropical Storm Risk classified Phailin as a category 4, which designates a "super cyclonic storm."
"If this is not a record it's really, really close," hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy, with the University of Miami in the US, told the Associated Press. "You really don't get storms stronger than this anywhere in the world ever. This is the top of the barrel."
The 1999 Orissa cyclone, similar in strength to Phailin, killed more than 8,000 people. Authorities say they are better prepared this time.
"With the horrendous experience of 1999 still haunting them, no one wants to take anything for granted," retired government officer Yudhistir Mohanty told the AFP news agency.
slk/kms (AP, AFP, Reuters)