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Category 4 Storm Heads for India, Almost One Million Evacuate

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Pratik Parija, Archana Chaudhary and Debjit Chakraborty
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(Bloomberg) -- A cyclonic storm equivalent of a category 4 hurricane is gathering speed and is set to hit India on Friday morning as almost one million people are being evacuated in the eastern state of Odisha.

Cyclone Fani is forecast to be the worst storm since 2014. The Navy and the coast guard have deployed ships and helicopters for relief operations, according to a government statement.

Odisha is battered by cyclonic storms every year with some intense enough to damage crops, plantations, trees, mud houses and communication and electric poles, as well as disrupt road traffic and transportation of essential goods. Severe storms also affect operations at oil and gas fields in the region and threaten lives of people and animals.

Sea levels may rise about 1.5 meters above astronomical tide, said Madhavan Nair Rajeevan, secretary at India’s Ministry of Earth Sciences. Wind speeds will likely reach as high as 200 kilometers (124 miles) per hour at the time of the landfall in Odisha, he said.

The state was battered by a super cyclone in 1999 with wind speeds that were estimated to have reached a maximum 270 kilometers an hour leaving almost 10,000 people dead. The ensuing rains caused flooding and temporarily cut off the state from the rest of the country.

“We are on the job and have sufficient time to evacuate people from the coastal areas,” said Bishnupada Sethi, special relief commissioner with the Odisha government. About 150,000 people have already been relocated and contingency plans are in place to deal with heavy flooding, he said.

High Alert

The administration has stocked up medicines and food supplies in preparation, said N. C. Marwah, a member of the National Disaster Management Authority. As many as 48 National Disaster Response teams are ready to be deployed, he said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who held a meeting on Thursday to review the preparations, has asked top officials to take preventive measures as well as make preparations for relief and rescue operations, according to a government statement.

Heavy showers are expected in some parts of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha for two days through Friday, while rain is seen in West Bengal for two days through Saturday, the weather office said. Sea conditions are likely to be rough along the coast in some parts of these three states in the coming days, it said.

Fishermen have been asked not to venture into deep seas and those who are already there have been advised to return to the coast. Indian Railways has canceled more than 100 trains in the region and diverted several others to avoid damage to passengers and goods, a spokesman for the ministry said.

Neighboring Bangladesh also issued a weather warning. Mongla and Payra ports have been asked to hoist danger signal number seven on a scale of 10, according to the Bangladesh Meteorological Department. The country has suspended river transport on all routes, State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury said in Dhaka.

Precautionary Measures

The cyclone forecast has prompted several companies with operations in the region to take precautionary measures.

State-run power producer NTPC Ltd. may temporarily shut one to two units at its 3,000-megawatt Talcher Kaniha plant in Odisha if the cyclone disrupts grid lines, said Operations Director Prakash Tiwari. Indian Oil Corp., which operates a 15-million-tons-a-year refinery at Paradip in coastal Odisha, will take necessary steps to control the impact, said B.V. Rama Gopal, refineries director.

“Weather is clear as of now and operations are all normal,” he said. “Paradip refinery is designed to withstand cyclones with speed of more than 200 kilometers per hour.”

Oil & Natural Gas Corp. said it has towed five of its six drilling rigs operating in the Bay of Bengal to the coast as a precautionary measure, and evacuated almost 500 people working at its offshore oil and gas fields in the region. State-run National Aluminium Co. said a cable belt conveyor from the mines to its refinery will be stopped in the event of heavy gusts, while heavy equipment operating in the field will get proper anchoring and locking.

Airlines are also preparing to deal with the situation. Vistara, a joint venture between Singapore Airlines Ltd. and India’s Tata Group, said in a Twitter post it will waive cancellation charges for flights to Bhubaneswar, capital of Odisha, and Kolkata, capital of West Bengal, for travel between May 2 and May 5. Market leader IndiGo canceled all flights to Visakhapatnam, in Andhra Pradesh, for Thursday and will cancel all flights to and from Bhubaneswar tomorrow.

Cyclone Fani is likely to have a sustained wind speed of 170-180 kilometers per hour when it hits the coast on Friday. That compares with Hudhud storm’s wind speed of 180 kilometers in 2014, according to data from the weather office. Cyclone Phailin, that battered Odisha and parts of Andhra Pradesh in 2013, saw surface wind speeds of about 215 kilometers per hour.

--With assistance from Arun Devnath, Sheenu Gupta, Swansy Afonso, Anurag Kotoky and Rajesh Kumar Singh.

To contact the reporters on this story: Pratik Parija in New Delhi at pparija@bloomberg.net;Archana Chaudhary in New Delhi at achaudhary2@bloomberg.net;Debjit Chakraborty in New Delhi at dchakrabor10@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Unni Krishnan at ukrishnan2@bloomberg.net, Atul Prakash, Abhay Singh

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