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'Monstrous' Cyclone Barrels Toward India's East Coast

Here's how the usually restrained meteorologists at the Capital Weather Gang describe the storm that is about to pummel India's east coast:

"The lives and livelihoods of millions of people along India's east coast are in peril as monstrous cyclone Phailin makes its approach from the Bay of Bengal. Phailin — a Thai word for 'sapphire' — has estimated maximum sustained winds of around 160 mph, ranking among the most intense cyclones to threaten India on record."

The Hindustan Times reports that the cyclone brings back memories of a 1999 storm that killed 10,000 people. The paper adds:

"This time, however, the state government sought to calm fears and said it was better prepared. It broadcast cyclone warnings through loudspeakers and on radio and television as the first winds were felt on the coast and in the state capital, Bhubaneswar. Army and disaster management teams are on standby to help in evacuation and rescue measures.

"Union home secretary said nearly 12 million people will be affected by the cyclone.

"Using trucks and buses, authorities evacuated more than 260,000 people from dozens of vulnerable villages in coastal Odisha and Andhra Pradesh to government-run shelters, schools and buildings. More than [100,000] were evacuated from Ganjam — the most vulnerable to Phailin's landfall — alone."

Interestingly, The Times of India reports that the India Meteorological Department is diverging from U.K. and U.S. meteorologists, saying the storm will make landfall Saturday with top wind speeds of 135 mph.

The Joint Typhoon Warning Center, run by the U.S. Navy, is forecasting the storm to make landfall with top wind speeds of 167 mph.

That's the difference between a major Category 4 hurricane — which has the same characteristics as a cyclone — and a major Category 5. As the National Hurricane Center explains, in a Category 4 hurricane, well-built frame homes "can sustain severe damage"; in a Category 5, "a high percentage" of those "will be destroyed."

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