People evacuated for safety rest in a temporary cyclone relief shelter in Puri in the eastern Indian state of Odisha on May 3, 2019, as cyclone Fani approaches the Indian coastline. Photo Dibyangshu Sarkar / AFP

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Cyclone Fani, one of the biggest storms to come off the Indian Ocean in years, made landfall in Odisha’s Puri district of Odisha state (formerly Orissa) around 8.30 am on Friday, reported the Indian Meteorological Department [IMD].

The cyclone triggered heavy rainfall and strong winds at the speed of 175 kilometer-per-hour in vast areas. At least two people have died.

India has classified Fani as an “extremely severe cyclonic storm” and deployed ships and helicopters for relief and rescue operations. Travel by rail, road and air has been completely suspended in the affected areas. Flights from Bhubaneswar, Odisha’s capital, were canceled from midnight Thursday and the Kolkata airport is to be shut between 3 pm Friday and 8 am on Saturday.

Trains totaling 140, including 83 passenger trains, have been canceled so far. All educational institutions, commercial establishments, shops and offices will remain closed. After crossing Odisha, cyclone Fani is likely to move towards West Bengal before tapering off.

The cyclone also triggered heavy rains and wind speeds up to 140 kmph in parts of north coastal Andhra Pradesh. It uprooted trees and electrical poles. The cyclone had moved close to Andhra before it made landfall in Odisha, reports said. Puri and Bhubaneswar saw many areas submerged with water, destruction of thatched structures and uprooting of trees.

The Odisha government evacuated over 1.1 million people from the coastal areas and advised the public to remain indoors. As many as 4,852 cyclones and flood shelters have been set up and about 5,000 kitchens are operating to serve people.

The Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and disaster management agencies have been put on standby in Odisha, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh states. Twenty-eight units of the National Disaster Management Authority, twenty units of the Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force and 525 fire personnel are in place for emergency service, reported NDTV.

As part of the rescue operation, the Indian railways will run a special train from Visakhapatnam, a port city on the Bay of Bengalin Andhra Pradesh, to Mumbai today to clear the stranded passengers affected by the cyclone.

The Andhra Pradesh electricity department asked people to stay alert to avoid accidents. Emergency equipment – including as many as 12,000 poles, 50 cranes, 40 pole drilling machines, 40 generators, 70 power saws and 2,000 transformers – was sent to areas that might be affected, reports said.

The NDRF tweeted out important instructions for the safety of the people.

The IMD also reported that the”extremely severe cyclonic storm” is likely to move north-northeast and weaken into a severe cyclonic storm in the next six hours.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “Yesterday, we have released more than Rs 1000 crores [10 billion] for the states which are reeling under this cyclone, this severe cyclone. NDRF, Indian Navy and army are engaged with the full promptness with the administration.”

Impact on general elections

Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] president Amit Shah has canceled his election rally in Jharkhand. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has also canceled all her political campaigns for the next 48 hours and announced that she would be present in Kharagpur, which is near the coastal belt, to monitor the situation today and tomorrow.

The Election Commission of India has lifted the Model Code of Conduct from 11 districts, presumably to keep rescue operations from falling afoul of the code’s terms and vice versa. It has also approved shifting of the polled electronic voting machines of four assembly constituencies in Odisha to safer locations.

Cyclone Fani is now being regarded as the most severe cyclonic storm since the super cyclone of 1999 in Odisha that claimed close to 10,000 lives and left a trail of destruction in vast swathes of the state, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Centre.

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