All flight operations in Kolkata airport have been suspended for 12 hours, and over 1.20 lakh people evacuated from the vulnerable coastal areas of West Bengal, as Very Severe Cyclonic Storm 'Bulbul' increased its ferocity with a wind speed of 125-135 km gusting to 150 km, and could make landfall between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Saturday triggering a storm surge, officials said.
"Due to impact of Cyclone bulbul with strong cross winds and likely wind shear in approaches, flight operations at Kolkata airport will be discontinued from 6 p.m. on Saturday to 6 a.m. on Sunday," an airport official said.
In its latest update, the met office said Bulbul now lay centred around 185 km south east of the eastern metropolis and 85 kilometres south of Sagar island in South 24 Parganas district.
The storm is likely to weaken gradually and move northeastwards and cross West Bengal-Bangladesh coasts between Sagar island and Bangladesh's Khepurpara across Sundarban delta between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. as a Severe Cyclonic Storm with maximum sustained wind speed of 110-120 km per hour, gusting to 135 km per hour.
Light to moderate rainfall with isolated heavy to very heavy rainfall is continuing over coastal districts of the state. Canning recorded three centimeters, Kolkata, diamond Harbour and Haldia two centimeters, and Digha one centimeters of rainfall between 8.30 a.m. and 11-30 a.m. during the day.
The Regional Meteorological Centre said during the time of landfall, there could be a storm surge of about one to two metres height in 24 Parganas North and 24 Parganas South district and 0.5 to 1 m height in East Midnapore district above the astronomical tide which is likely to inundate low lying areas.
The maximum extent of inundation is likely to be around two kilometres over the two Parganas.
State chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who monitored the preventive measures from the special control room set up at the secretariat Nabanna, said "more than 1 lakh 20 thousand people have already been rescued from the vulnerable coastal areas".
She asked people not to panic.
"Please do not panic. Kindly remain calm and co-operate with the administration in its rescue and relief efforts. Be alert, take care and stay safe," Banerjee tweeted.
As a safety measure, the state government on Saturday declared closed schools, colleges and anganwadi centres.
"Our State Administration is closely monitoring the situation 24x7. We are taking all measures to tackle any contingency. Special Control Rooms have been set up and NDRF-SDRF teams are deployed", she said in another twitter post.
A high alert is on in the coastal districts, amidst apprehensions that the storm may impact parts of 24 Parganas North, 24 Parganas South, East Midnapore, West Midnapore, Howrah, Kolkata and Jhargram.
Ferry services on various rivers were suspended for the day. With evening descending, buses and cabs disappeared from the city roads, which looked deserted.
Kolkata is away from the core area of Bulbul. The impact will be limited to a wins speed of 50-70 kilometer along with heavy rainfall after 7 pm," RMC director G C Das said.
The river traffic police personnel were seen patrolling near the ghats of river Hooghly.
Another special control room has been opened at the city police headquarters Lalbazar, for maintaining contact with various departments.
The police authorities were coordinating with Kolkata Municipal Corporation officials on alerting dwellers of old houses and also to ensure express removal of uprooted trees as a likely effect of the storm.
The disaster response teams have been kept ready with relief and rescue materials to tackle any calamity in the wake of the storm. The central government has been in constant touch with the senior figures of the state administration.
People have been warned not to come close to the sea in the coastal districts.
The fishermen have been barred from venturing into the sea adjoining the Sundarbans delta on Saturday and Sunday.
Hotels in the coastal tourist resorts of Digha, Bakkhali, AMandarmoni, Talsari, Shankarpur and Bakkhali have been largely emptied of tourists.