Fishermen try to control their boat amidst rough sea waters at Puri beach. (PTI) 

Odisha Braces For Cyclonic Storm ‘Fani’, Armed Forces On Alert 

Defence forces are on high alert, educational institutions ordered shut and thousands in coastal districts being evacuated as Odisha braces for cyclone 'Fani', the extremely severe cyclonic storm that is likely to make landfall near Puri on Friday, officials said.

According to the latest forecast by the Joint Typhoon Warning Centre, Fani— the most severe cyclonic storm since the super cyclone of 1999 that claimed close to 10,000 lives and devastated large parts of Odisha— is expected to cross the holy town of Jagannath Puri on the afternoon of May 3, packing winds up to 175 km per hour before the landfall.

The storm over the Bay of Bengal centred about 660 km south-south west of Puri and was rolling toward the Odisha coast at a speed of 14 km per hour.

Official sources said Navy, Indian Air Force and Coast Guard have been put on high alert to meet any eventuality. Personnel of the National Disaster Response Force, Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force, and fire service have been deployed in vulnerable areas to assist the civil administration.

The collectors of coastal and southern districts have been asked to complete the evacuation exercise from low lying areas by Thursday evening keeping in mind the forecast of massive tides that could surge up to 1.5 metres during the landfall, Special Relief Commissioner BP Sethi said.

Torrential rains are likely in Ganjam, Puri, Khurda, Cuttack and Jagatsinghpur districts with winds blasting at speeds ranging from 175-200 km an hour.

Leave of all doctors and health service officials have been cancelled till May 15, the state's chief secretary AP Padhi said.

State police chief RP Sharma said leave of all police personnel have also been cancelled and those on leave have been asked to immediately report for duty.

IAS officers have been put in charge of relief, rescue and restoration operations in vulnerable districts.

Sharma said Superintendents of Police have been asked to constantly monitor the situation and reach relief to stricken people.

The 880 cyclone shelters in coastal and southern districts have been kept ready to accomodate the evacuees, Sethi said, adding that in districts like Gajapati and Rayagada, where such facilities do not exist, they will be housed in schools and anganwadi centres.

The Election Commission has, meanwhile, relaxed the provisions of the model code of conduct in 11 coastal districts to facilitate relief and rescue operations, state’s chief electoral officer Surendra Kumar said.

These districts— Puri, Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara, Bhadrak, Balasore, Mayurbhanj, Gajapati, Ganjam, Khordha, Cuttack and Jajpur— are likely to bear the brunt of the cyclone, which is also likely to impact Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had on Tuesday urged the Election Commission to withdraw the model code from all coastal districts to help the state government handle the situation in the aftermath of storm.

Surendra Kumar said Electronic Voting Machines in Jagatsinghpur and Gajapati districts will be shifted to safer places in the presence of representatives of all political parties. The exercise will be videographed to maintain transparency.

Also read: National Disaster Response Force, Coast Guard Put On High Alert As Cyclone Fani To Intensify By Tuesday

The East Coast Railway has cancelled 74 trains in view of the cyclone, an ECoR official said.

Tourists have been asked to leave Puri by Thursday evening, while Nandankanan Zoological Park authorities in Bhubaneswar have announced it will remain closed from May 2-4.

The higher education department has directed all state universities and colleges in Ganjam, Gajapati, Puri, Khurda, Nayagarh, Cuttack, Jajpur, Bhadrak, Kendrapara, Jagatsinghpur, Balasore and Mayurbhanj districts to remain closed for three days from May 2.

Oil marketing companies have been asked to store adequate quantities of kerosene, petrol and diesel so rescue and relief efforts are not adversely affected.

"As the chief minister has instructed us to ensure zero casulty, our priority is to ensure that no one dies in the calamity," the state's chief secretary said, claiming the government apparatus was in a state of readiness to meet the challenge.

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