A massive operation was launched in Odisha on Thursday to evacuate over eight lakh people from low-lying coastal areas as Cyclone Fani moved closer to the eastern coast, PTI reported. This is reportedly the largest-ever evacuation operation in the country.

Cyclone Fani, classified as an “extremely severe cyclonic storm”, is likely to cross the Odisha coast between Gopalpur and Chandbali on Friday afternoon with wind speed of 170 to 180 km per hour gusting up to 200 km per hour, according to the 11.30 am bulletin released by the India Meteorological Department. The cyclone lies about 385 km south-southwest of Puri and 200 km south-southeast of Visakhapatnam.

Special Relief Commissioner BP Sethi said people from low-lying and vulnerable areas of coastal districts are being shifted to around 880 cyclone centres, schools and college buildings. Sethi said the evacuation exercise will be completed by Thursday evening.

The cyclone is likely to have an impact on 14 districts in Odisha – Puri, Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara, Balasore, Bhadrak, Ganjam, Khurda, Jajpur, Nayagarh, Cuttack, Gajapati, Mayurbhanj, Dhenkanal and Keonjhar. Parts of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal are also likely to be affected.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik reviewed the preparations for the cyclone on Wednesday. “He emphasised that special care should be taken to safely evacuate pregnant women, children, old and differently abled from vulnerable areas,” the Chief Minister’s Office said on Twitter. “About eight lakh people will be evacuated and sheltered in cyclone centres, schools and other safer places.”

All schools and colleges in the state will be closed for the next three days, NDTV reported.

The Navy, Air Force, Army and Coast Guard have been put on high alert. Personnel of the National Disaster Response Force, Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force and fire service have been sent to vulnerable areas to assist the administration.

The NDRF has deployed 28 teams in Odisha, 12 in Andhra Pradesh and six teams in West Bengal for relief and rescue work, according to NDTV. Over 30 additional teams are on standby with boats, tree cutters and telecom equipment.

The Airport Authority of India issued an alert to all coastal airports directing them to take all precautions and ensure standard operating procedures are in place, ANI reported.

The East Coast Railway cancelled over 103 trains for the safety of passengers in view of the cyclone, according to PTI. Three special trains will run from Puri to Howrah and Shalimar in West Bengal on Thursday in order to evacuate tourists and to carry passengers. Train services between Bhadrak and Vizianagaram will be cancelled for two days from Thursday evening.

The Met department has forecast rainfall in most places, heavy to very heavy rainfall at a few places and extremely heavy rain at isolated places in coastal Odisha and the interior districts of the state on May 3. HR Biswas, director of the Meteorological Centre in Bhubaneswar, said several areas are likely to receive rainfall up to 20 cm under the impact of the cyclone, PTI reported.

Sea condition is likely to be rough off the coast of Odisha and West Bengal and fishermen have been advised not to venture into the sea till May 4.

Operations were stopped at Paradip Port and a Cautionary Distant Warning Signal Number Three was hoisted in all ports in Odisha. The third stage warning is issued at least 24 hours in advance of adverse weather in coastal areas.