BHUBANESWAR, India - A "very severe" cyclone gathered speed as it barrelled towards India's east coast Friday where the army mobilised to assist with evacuation efforts and panicked locals recalled a devastating storm in 1999.
India's air force sent teams to assist with moving people out of the path of Cyclone Phailin, which was expected to make landfall on Saturday evening accompanied by a storm surge of up to two and a half metres (seven feet).
The storm "would increase in intensity with gale wind-speed reaching 205-215 kilometres (127-134 miles) per hour at the time of landfall", the Indian Meteorological Department said as it upgraded its warnings on Friday.
L.S. Rathore, the director general of the IMD, told local television that Phailin was gaining intensity over the Bay of Bengal and is "very close to super cyclonic storm," the most powerful form.
In the state capital Bhubaneswar, where trees were already bending under the strain of strong winds, panic buying saw many shops running low on food, with memories strong of the 1999 storm which killed thousands of people.
"I'm feeling scared and tense. My son is expected to arrive Sunday. Now I think he wont make it", housewife Manjushree Das told AFP.
Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik wrote to the defence ministry appealing for help, saying that "despite preparedness by the state government, the impact of a very severe cyclonic storm requires support of the defence forces".
The air force, fresh from assisting massive flooding in the Himalayas in June, said it was sending emergency teams to state capital Bhubaneswar as well as putting transport planes and helicopters on standby on nearby bases.
The army and navy were also preparing to assist.