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Powerful Cyclone Phailin nears landfall

7:51 AM, Oct 12, 2013   |    comments
Indian youth stand on the shore as high tidal waves hit the coastline in Visakhapatnam on Oct. 12, 2013.(Photo: Manan Vatsyayana, AFP/Getty Images)
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NEW DELHI - Massive Cyclone Phailin pounded India's Eastern coast with wind and rain Saturday as officials continued a massive evacuation operation.

As of 8 a.m. ET, the center of Cyclone Phailin was located about 45 miles off the coast of India, according to AccuWeather. The storm should make landfall within the next hour.

Phalin is packing sustained winds of 150 mph, with gusts to 185 mph. It is now officially the strongest storm ever recorded in the Indian Ocean.

The coastal state of Odisha evacuated more than 600,000 people ahead of the storm but concerns remained that authorities were underestimating Phailin's severity.

The Indian Meteorological Department warned Phailin was a "very severe cyclonic storm" and predicted it would hit the coast with maximum sustained winds of 130-135 miles per hour - the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane.

The U.S. Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii, however, forecast maximum sustained winds of 167 mph - the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane - with gusts up to 196 mph.

The cyclone, which has been building up over the Indian Ocean since Friday, could bring a storm surge of 20-30 feet, Ryan Maue, a meteorologist at Weather Bell, a private U.S. weather firm, told the Associated Press.

Satellite images showed the cyclone filling nearly the entire Bay of Bengal, an area larger than France that has seen a number of the world's worst recorded storms, including a 1999 cyclone that killed 10,000.

"The storm has the potential to cause huge damage," L.S. Rathore, director-general of the Indian Meteorlogical Department told reporters.

The epicenter of the cyclone is likely to be close to the major port of Paradip in Odisha, already experiencing ominous dark skies and furious waves by midday Saturday.

"We have stopped all cargo operations," Paradip Port Trust Chairman Sudhanshu Shekhara Mishra told the Press Trust of India (PTI), a local news agency. "We have set up control rooms and are ready with a contingency plan. We have cleared all vessels. People have been evacuated from low lying areas."

In Bhubaneshwar, the capital of Odisha, authorities have moved hundreds of thousands of people living in low-lying areas to higher ground. The state has created 800 shelters as government workers and volunteers put together food packages for relief camps.

"I don't want people to panic," said Naveen Patnaik, chief minister of Odisha told PTI, calling for everyone to do their part in helping relief operations.

More than 60,000 people from the low-lying areas of in neighboring state of Andhra Pradesh state have been evacuated. The sea has already pushed inland as much as 130 feet in parts of that state, officials said.

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