India ordered tens of thousands of coastal villagers to high ground on Friday, as a massive cyclone continued gathering strength as it moved toward the country's east coast.
Pictures from weather satellites late Friday showed Cyclone Phailin so large that it covered virtually the entire Bay of Bengal as its center drew a bead on the Indian states of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.
Indian forecasters are quoted as saying the storm is expected to strike a 400-kilometer stretch of the coast late Saturday with winds of 220 kilometers an hour and a storm surge of 1.2 meters or higher.
However, the Times of India newspaper quoted meteorologists Friday who warned that local forecasters may be underestimating the storm's severity. The newspaper referred to advisories issued by the U.S. Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center of winds gusts as high as 315 kilometers an hour on landfall, making it a most-powerful category 5 storm.
The United Nations and European Union's Global Disaster Alert System warned Friday that 6.5 million people are likely to face torrential rains and damaging winds.
Cyclones in the Bay of Bengal are common this time of year, frequently wreaking havoc and causing mass deaths in coastal India and Bangladesh. A cyclone hit Odisha state in 1999, killing at least 10,000 people.