Andhra Pradesh braced itself for a severe cyclonic storm, christened Laila, as it threatened to bring “extremely heavy rainfall” of more than 25 cm at several places along the coastline on Wednesday, accompanied by gales with initial speeds of 65-70 kmph.

What was initially a deep depression in the Bay of Bengal turned into a cyclonic storm that lay about 550 km south-southeast of Visakhapatnam on Tuesday evening. By all indications, it is likely to intensify into a severe cyclonic storm and cross the coast between Ongole and Visakhapatnam on May 20 morning.

It is feared that at the time of its landfall, the speed of gales would reach 115-125 kmph. The sea condition would be rough and tidal waves of abnormal height are expected. Already, warning signal 7 ( ‘danger' -- severe weather from a cyclone) has been hoisted at all the sea ports, including Visakhapatnam and Nizampatnam and fishermen in all the nine coastal districts were warned against venturing into the sea.

As there were light rains and winds in coastal areas on Tuesday evening, Revenue officials commenced evacuation of people from low-lying areas in Srikakulam, Vizianagaram, Visakhapatnam, East Godavari, West Godavari, Krishna, Guntur, Prakasam and Nellore.

Four persons were killed in Pyapili mandal of Kurnool district when the roof of a temporary shed collapsed due to gusty winds. Three fishermen went missing after venturing out from their village, Arkatpalem in Muthukur mandal of Nellore district and eight more from Subbampeta hamlet near Vuppada mandal near Kakinada and all efforts to trace them proved futile due to highly rough seas. Two persons were struck dead by lightning in Keesargutta on the Hyderabad city outskirts.

High alert

Following a high alert sounded by the India Meteorological Department and the Union Ministry of Home affairs, Chief Minister K. Rosaiah reviewed the situation twice during the day with Revenue Minister D. Prasada Rao and officials. A 36-member team of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) from Chennai arrived in Nellore to assist in rescue and relief operations on the request of the State government.

The Indian Navy in Visakhapatnam was also alerted.

The Chief Minister ordered cancellation of the leave of all officials in the coastal districts and instructed them to remain on alert till May 22. Cyclone control rooms were opened in the Secretariat and all coastal districts to monitor the situation continuously.

Ham radio network and satellite phones have been activated to maintain communication in case the conventional network fails.

Instructions have been given to the Civil Supplies and APSRTC officials to keep adequate stocks of essential commodities and buses for transportation of people respectively.

The South Central Railway has been asked to operate trains only after satisfying itself that the railway track did not suffer damage.