More than 400,000 people in India have been evacuated as Cyclone Phailin sweeps through the Bay of Bengal towards the east coast.
Cyclone Phailin, categorized as “very severe” by weather forecasters, is expected to hit Orissa and Andhra Pradesh states on Saturday evening.
The Meteorological Department has predicted the storm will bring winds up to 136 mph.
A deadly super-cyclone in 1999 killed more than 10,000 people in Orissa.
However, the US Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii is forecasting even stronger winds, predicting sustained speeds of up to 167 mph.
Officials said Cyclone Phailin is expected to make landfall close to the city of Gopalpur (Orissa state), bringing a storm surge of at least 10 ft that was likely to cause “extensive damage” to mud houses on the coast.
“No-one will be allowed to stay in mud and thatched houses in the coastal areas,” said Orissa’s Disaster Management Minister Surya Narayan Patra.
The army is on standby in the two states for emergency and relief operations. Officials said helicopters and food packages were ready to be dropped in the storm-affected areas.
Meanwhile, the US Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Centre predicted that Phailin could produce gusts of up to 315 km/h, while the London-based Tropical Storm Risk classified Phailin as a Category Five storm – the most powerful.
The Times of India newspaper warned that local meteorologists may be underestimating the severity of the storm.
Meteorologists also say that the storm is not only intense but covers a wide area.
Fishermen have been asked not to venture out to sea.
Rain and winds are already being felt in Orissa, where authorities said they were setting up shelters for people who would need to be evacuated.
“We are fighting against nature. We are better prepared this time, we learnt a lot from 1999,” said Surya Narayan Patra.
Reports said that there had been panic buying in the state capital, Bhubaneswar, with shelves being emptied of food.
“I’m feeling scared and tense. My son is expected to arrive Sunday. Now I think he won’t make it,” housewife Manjushree Das told the Agence France-Presse news agency.
India’s eastern coast and Bangladesh are routinely hit by cyclonic storms between April and November which cause deaths and widespread damage to property.
In December 2011, Cyclone Thane hit the southern state of Tamil Nadu, killing dozens of people.