People take shelter during gusty winds ahead of the landfall of cyclone Fani, at Bhubaneswar railway station. (Source: PTI) 

Cyclone Fani Makes Landfall as India, Bangladesh Evacuate 3.5 Million People

(Bloomberg) -- Cyclone Fani barreled through the eastern parts of India on Friday, unleashing heavy rain and prompting authorities in the country and neighboring Bangladesh to evacuate a total of more than 3.5 million people to shelters.

At least eight people were killed as the windstorm swamped towns and villages, the Press Trust of India reported, citing government officials it didn’t name. Dhaka-based US-Bangla Airlines suspended flights to Kolkata, as the Indian city’s airport remains shut due to the cyclone, according to spokesman Kamrul Islam.

The cyclone’s wind speeds reached as high as 205 kilometers (127 miles) per hour, according to the India Meteorological Department. The storm damaged the structure of a hospital in the state’s capital Bhubaneswar and snapped telephone lines in many areas, while television channels showed pictures of uprooted trees, broken houses and overturned vehicles.

Cyclone Fani Makes Landfall as India, Bangladesh Evacuate 3.5 Million People

Fani weakened as it headed further interior into Bangladesh, the nation’s meteorological department said in a bulletin. Bangladesh remains on high alert and the government plans to evacuate as many as 2.5 million people from 19 coastal districts by Friday evening, Disaster Management Secretary Shah Kamal said at a media briefing in Dhaka.

Odisha, home to several aluminum units, power plants, coal mines and an oil refinery, is battered by cyclonic storms every year. The Indian state was hit 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.

“We are shocked to see the massive damage in and around Bhubaneswar and Puri,” said Bishnupada Sethi, special relief commissioner with the Odisha government. “We are assessing the damage.” The state government has evacuated more than one million people to cyclone shelters, he said. Bhubaneswar is the capital city of the state, while Puri is a coastal town famous for an ancient Hindu temple.

Cyclone Fani Makes Landfall as India, Bangladesh Evacuate 3.5 Million People

Exploration Suspended

Oil & Natural Gas Corp. has suspended its offshore exploration in the region and has towed five of its six drilling rigs in the Bay of Bengal to the coast as a precautionary measure. It has evacuated almost 500 people working at its fields. State-run National Aluminium Co. is reviewing its mining operations and may shut its refinery in the event of heavy gusts.

Indian Oil Corp., which has a 15-million-ton-a-year refinery at Paradip in coastal Odisha, has taken all necessary steps to control the impact, refineries director B.V. Rama Gopal said on Friday. “We have moved some ships with crude and petroleum products to the high seas for a few days,” he said. “Paradip refinery is designed to withstand cyclones with speed of more than 200 kilometers per hour.”

Heavy Showers

Odisha and West Bengal, which are expected to bear the brunt of the storm, were forecast to get heavy showers Saturday, according to the weather office. The two affected states mainly grow rice during the monsoon season, with plantings beginning this month.

Cyclone Fani Makes Landfall as India, Bangladesh Evacuate 3.5 Million People

All trains have been canceled on a section along the Odisha coast on the Kolkata-Chennai route until Saturday afternoon, according to the Indian Railways.

Most operations at all the ports on the east coast have been suspended, said Subrat Tripathy, chief executive officer of Dhamra Port in Odisha. “We have also taken out vessels as we can’t operate under this severe weather condition.”

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