Hyderabad/New Delhi/Kolkata, May 19: Over 50,000 people were evacuated in coastal Andhra Pradesh by late Wednesday as hundreds of villages face threat of inundation with cyclonic storm Laila, which is set to hit the state’s coast Thursday morning.
Authorities were forcibly evacuating people from coastal areas and low-lying villages while nearly 500 personnel of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) were deployed and four helicopters kept ready for rescue and relief operations.
“The government has asked district collectors to use police, wherever necessary, to evacuate people from low-lying areas,” state Minister for Information and Public Relations J. Geeta Reddy told reporters.
The 10th storm warning signal was hoisted at all eight ports along Andhra Pradesh coast, indicating the severity of the storm christened Laila. The ports have 11 warning signals and the final signal may be hoisted later Wednesday.
The districts of East Godavari, West Godavari, Krishna and Guntur may bear the brunt of Laila, which is likely to cross the coast between Nellore and Kakinada close to Machilipatnam, officials said Wednesday.
The government released a list of 777 villages vulnerable to the cyclone, which lay centred at 250 km south-southeast of Machilipatnam.
“Storm surge of 1.5 to 2 metres above the astronomical tide is likely to inundate the coastal areas of Guntur, Krishna and West and East Godavari districts at the time of landfall,” the India Meteorological Department said.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister K. Rosaiah asked ministers and officials to do whatever possible to protect life and property of people.
“The government is fully aware of the grave threat of the cyclone and closely monitoring the situation round the clock,” he said.
“Control rooms have been established both at Hyderabad and the district headquarters,” said a statement from the chief minister’s office.
A union home ministry statement in New Delhi said the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) ordered deployment of disaster management personnel Tuesday itself and the deployment was completed by Wednesday evening.
A total of 438 personnel along with 64 inflatable boats were deployed at various locations in six coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh – Visakhapatnam, Vijayawada, Machilipatnam, Guntur, Prakasam and Nellore.
“The NDMA deployed NDRF on receipt of cyclonic warning from India Meteorological Department (IMD) around 5 a.m. Tuesday…..,” said the release.
As many as 338 villages are in East Godavari district, where the port city of Kakinada is also likely to be affected. The Krishna district (233 villages), Guntur (158 villages) and West Godavari (48 villages) and the port city of Machilipatnam is also likely to be hit hard.
Nine senior officers have been deputed to nine coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh to monitor rescue and relief work, while ministers also rushed to districts likely to be hit by the cyclone.
The IMD has warned of heavy to very heavy rains of 25 cm and above and gales with wind speeds of 115-125 km per hour at the time of the cyclone’s landfall.
The IMD has suggested total suspension of fishing operations, moving coastal hutment dwellers to safer places and advised people in coastal districts to remain indoors.
Strong gales with speeds of 65 to 70 km per hour have been lashing the region since Tuesday night, uprooting trees and damaging electricity and communication towers in some districts, officials said.
Almost the entire Nellore district plunged into darkness as strong gales damaged electricity system. Districts of Vijayanagaram, Srikakulam, Visakhapatnam, East Godavari, West Godavari, Krishna and Guntur are receiving heavy rains since Wednesday morning.
At least 10 people were killed in rain-related incidents like lightning strikes and wall collapses since Tuesday night. About 25 fishermen were also reported missing.
Andhra Pradesh has about 1,000-km-long coast line, which is vulnerable to cyclones, storms and low pressure areas over the Bay of Bengal during September-October every year.
Officials said this was the first time in 20 years that the coastal region is facing a cyclonic storm during May.
Weather department officials have also issued warnings to Orissa and West Bengal as the cyclone is likely to move northeastwards after landfall across the two states. Fishermen have been advised to be cautious while going out into sea.
In Kolkata, the meteorological centre director G.C. Debnath rushed to the state secretariat Writers’ Buildings in the evening and briefed senior officials about the likely effects of Laila.
“Tomorrow (Thursday) evening it will hit West Bengal, but the wind speed could be substantially lower at 60-70 km per hour. It may trigger stormy winds and heavy rains,” Debnath told reporters.
West Bengal Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta said the state government has ordered seven districts – North 24-Parganas, South 24-Pargans, Howrah, Hooghly, Nadia, East Midnapore and West Midnapore – to take precautionary measures on a war footing.