India evacuates more than a million people ahead of cyclone Fani’s landfall

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BHUBANESHWAR, India/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India has evacuated more than a million people living along its east coast ahead of an extremely severe cyclone that is due to make landfall on Friday afternoon, government officials said.

Cyclonic storm Fani, which has been churning up the Bay of Bengal, is currently about 150 km (93 miles) northeast of the Hindu temple town of Puri in Odisha, the state-run India Meteorological Department (IMD) said.

Fani was likely to make landfall later on Friday with winds of 170-180 kph (105-111 mph), with gusts as high as 200 kph (124 mph), the IMD said in its latest forecast.

The state government of Odisha has evacuated more than a million people in the past 24 hours, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said in on Twitter.

Cyclone Fani was likely to hit 15 districts in Odisha, which has deployed hundreds of disaster management personnel, closed schools and colleges and asked doctors and other health officials not to go on leave until May 15.

The airport at Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha, will be shut on Friday. Neighbouring West Bengal state also decided to close an airport at Kolkata, its capital.

India’s cyclone season can last from April to December, when severe storms batter coastal cities and cause widespread deaths and damage to crops and property in both India and neighbouring Bangladesh.

Technological advancements have helped meteorologists to predict weather patterns well in advance, giving authorities more time to prepare.

A super-cyclone battered the coast of Odisha for 30 hours in 1999, killing 10,000 people. A mass evacuation of nearly a million people likely saved thousands of lives in 2013.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked his officials to stay in touch with the states at risk from cyclone Fani.

Reporting by Jatindra Dash in BHUBANESHWAR and Mayank Bhardwaj in NEW DELHI; Editing by Paul Tait

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