Tropical Cyclone Fani gathers force in the Bay of Bengal
© HO/AFP/Getty ImagesTropical Cyclone Fani gathers force in the Bay of Bengal. It is set to hit the east coast of India on Friday.

Emergency crews deployed to Odisha state as storm packing 205km/h winds bears down on the east coast

India has begun the evacuation of 800,000 people and deployed emergency personnel as the country's east coast braces for a severe cyclonic storm.

Tropical Cyclone Fani, located in the Bay of Bengal and packing wind speeds up to 205 km (127 miles) per hour, is expected to make landfall on the coast of Odisha state on Friday.

The state's authorities said they hoped to have evacuated 800,000 people from the state's coastal districts by Thursday morning.

Odisha has also moved in thousands of disaster management personnel to help those living in mud-and-thatch homes in low-lying areas take shelter from Fani.

"We are making best efforts to inform them about the cyclone and move these vulnerable people to cyclone shelters," Bishnupada Sethi, the state's special relief commissioner, said.

The neighbouring coastal states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have also been put on high alert.

India's national disaster management authority (NDMA) said sea conditions were "phenomenal" over the west-central Bay of Bengal area.

Authorities at ports in Paradip and Visakhapatnam ordered ships to move out to sea to avoid damage.

"Fishermen are advised not to venture into these areas," NDMA warned on Twitter.

The office of the state's special relief commissioner said local authorities had been told to identify "all vulnerable people... and shift them to multipurpose cyclone/flood shelters".

"Arrangements have already been made for free kitchen, safe drinking water, lighting, health and sanitation," it said in a statement.

Local media reports say there are more than 850 shelters in the state that can accommodate around one million people.

HR Biswas, director of the meteorological centre in state capital Bhubaneshwar, said at least 11 districts would be affected by severe rainfall.

"We have suggested people to stay indoors," he told reporters.

The coastal town of Puri, 62 kms (40 miles) from Bhubaneshwar, has also been placed on high alert.

Puri is home to Shree Jagannath, one of Hinduism's holiest temples, which receives millions of pilgrims each year.

The government also advised the pilgrims to leave the holy town, if possible, and to reschedule any non-essential travel in the region.

India's weather department warned of "potential threat of flying objects ... Extensive uprooting of communication and power poles ...Disruption of rail, road".

One local agency said that it had kept around 300 boats and crew on standby for rescue or relief work in the next 48 to 72 hours.

Odisha had to evacuate some 300,000 people last October when its coastal districts were battered by cyclone Titli, with winds up to 150 kms (95 miles) per hour and heavy rains. At least two people were killed in the cyclone.

Storms regularly hit eastern and south-eastern India between April and December. In 2017, Cyclone Ockhi left nearly 250 people dead in Tamil Nadu and Kerala states.

Odisha's worst-ever cyclone, in 1999, killed over 8,000 people.