The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) said Cyclone Fani would make landfall in Odisha state on Friday afternoon, and recommended the “extensive evacuation of coastal areas”.
Fishers were urged to return to coasts and it was predicted that the storm would bring widespread disruption to power supplies, rail and road traffic inland.
The government said people living in 14 low-lying districts of Odisha would be moved to shelters and sturdier school and college buildings. Tourists were urged to leave coastal areas in both Odisha and neighbouring West Bengal.
“We are maximising efforts at all levels for evacuation for the time being,” Odisha’s special relief commissioner Bishnupada Sethi told the Reuters news agency.
Fani is the first major storm of India’s cyclone season, which generally runs from April to December. The tracking service Tropical Storm Risk rated it a mid-range category 3 storm.
In its latest bulletin on Thursday morning, the IMD warned the worst-affected coastal districts would see a storm surge of about 1.5m above regular tidal levels, which was “very likely to inundate low lying areas”.
Parts of Odisha, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh would experience “extremely heavy rainfall” of above 20cm, it warned. Sea conditions would be “phenomenally” rough, the bulletin said, adding that “large boats and ships may get torn from their moorings”.
Cyclones coming in from the Bay of Bengal lead to many evacuations every year, and can cause widespread destruction to properties, damage to crops and deaths across both India and Bangladesh.
Two decades ago a super-cyclone battered the coast of Odisha for 30 hours, killing 10,000 people, while in 2013 a mass evacuation of nearly a million people is likely to have saved thousands of lives.
Additional reporting by agencies