India is bracing itself for many casualties and widespread destruction as a massive cyclone, expected to make landfall by early Saturday evening, continues to march relentlessly towards its east coast.
Satellite images have shown Cyclone Phailin, described as covering an area “half the size of India," moving across the Bay of Bengal towards the eastern coastline. The storm has been categorized as a super cyclone and is expected to bring winds of over 200 mph and 25cm of rain in 24 hours. The effects of the storm have already reached coastal areas, as large waves began pounding the shores early this morning.
Here's the storm as seen from space:
The Indian authorities have begun evacuating 100,000 people from vulnerable areas in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, where Phailin is expected to hit at around 6:00 p.m. on Saturday. Disaster relief teams are being kept in readiness and supplies have been stockpiled, while the government hopes to have power restored and roads cleared within 48 hours of the cyclone. Holiday leave has been cancelled for medical staff, and power plant workers that had been on strike in Andhra Pradesh have returned to work until the storm passes.
It is also expected that many crops will be damaged by the storm. The states in the path of Phailin are among some of India’s biggest rice-producers, and this year was expected to bring a bumper crop after a good monsoon season had benefited farmers.
Cyclones and tropical storms are a regular occurrence across the Indian Ocean at this time of year, but the sheer size of Phailin is causing far more concern than usual. 10,000 people were killed in 1999 when a similar-sized storm ripped though Orissa, though the authorities are hopeful that they will be better able to handle the effects of a large cyclone now.
"We are fighting against nature. We are better prepared this time, we learnt a lot from 1999," Orissa's Disaster Management Minister Surya Narayan Patra told the NDTV news channel.
However, many meteorologists are comparing Phailin to Hurricane Katrina, which wreaked havoc on New Orleans in 2005. Unfortunately, this is probably another storm that will be remembered for many years to come.
Here's the storm's path: