Hari Kumar and Austin Ramzy
BHUBANESWAR, India — Hundreds of thousands of people evacuated parts of India’s eastern coast Thursday as an “extremely severe” cyclone moved north through the Bay of Bengal, bringing fears of widespread destruction from heavy rain, powerful winds and storm surge in low-lying areas.
Cyclone Fani, classified by Indian authorities as the equivalent of a Category 3 or 4 hurricane, was expected to hit the coast Friday after churning through the bay, which has produced many of the world’s deadliest tropical cyclones.
Tens of millions of people are potentially in the path of what the India Meteorological Department called an “extremely severe cyclonic storm.” The agency said the cyclone would land with sustained winds of more than 100 mph and gusts as strong as 120 mph.
In the beach village of Chandrabhaga, police helped residents move from thatched-roof homes to a nearby storm shelter Thursday afternoon. They sat on the floor of the shelter or in plastic chairs awaiting the arrival of the storm.
The meteorological department warned of the “total destruction” of thatched huts in some districts, major damage to roads, the uprooting of power poles and potential danger from flying objects.
Indian authorities said the storm could be the most powerful to strike India since 1999, when a cyclone killed more than 10,000 people in the same region of eastern India. But authorities in the region have significantly improved disaster preparation and response capabilities in the years since, and subsequent major storms have resulted in far fewer deaths.
Cyclone Fani is forecast to drop as much as 8 inches of rain 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. Airports in its path were closing and hundreds of trains have been canceled.
Naveen Patnaik, chief minister of Odisha, 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.
“People are reluctant to leave their homes, though, which is problematic,” Sethi said.