More than 600,000 people evacuated amid 137mph winds as severe storm approaches Odisha and Andhra Pradesh states , Up to 12 million people could face mass disruption from a huge storm that is expected to cause severe damage when it makes landfall in eastern India on Saturday evening.

More than 600,000 people were evacuated from India’s eastern coastline on Friday as cyclone Phailin was classified as a supercyclone.

Rain and winds of at least 137mph continued to lash the east coast on Saturday while hundreds of thousands of inhabitants fled to higher ground or cyclone shelters. The Indian government issued a red alert and warned that the storm, which fills most of the bay of Bengal, could inflict serious damage when it makes landfall.

People gathered at mosques and temples in Odisha state praying that cyclone Phailin would not be as devastating as a similar storm that killed 10,000 people 14 years ago. Heavy rain pounded coastal villages in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh.

“This is one of the largest evacuations undertaken in India,” said Shashidhar Reddy, the vice-chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority. The size of the storm made extensive damage to property more likely, he said. “Our priority is to minimise loss of life.”

In Donkuru, a fishing village in the south-eastern state of Andhra Pradesh that is expected to catch the eye of the storm, people said they hesitated to leave because they had small children, despite buses provided by the authorities to take them away.

The India Meteorological Department said Phailin was expected to cause an 11-foot (3.5-metre) surge in sea levels when it hit the coast.

In Odisha, families walked through the rain to shelters as gusts of wind snapped branches from trees, while tourists have left the popular beach resort of Puri.

The London-based Tropical Storm Risk consortium said the storm was in the supercyclone category and classed it as a category five storm, the strongest. The US navy’s weather service said wind at sea was gusting at 195mph.

Some forecasters likened its size and intensity to hurricane Katrina, which tore through the US Gulf coast and New Orleans in 2005. Its scale also stirred memories of a 1999 Indian storm when winds reaching speeds of 150mph battered Odisha for 30 hours.

The Odisha government has said it is now better prepared. Authorities warned of extensive damage to crops, village homes and old buildings, as well as disruption of power, water and rail services. Shelters were being stocked with rations and leave for government employees was cancelled.

A police official said a rescue effort had been launched for 18 fishermen stranded at sea four nautical miles from Paradip, a big port in Odisha, after their trawler ran out of fuel.

Paradip halted cargo operations on Friday. All vessels were ordered to leave the port, which handles coal, crude oil and iron ore. An oil tanker holding about 2m barrels of oil was also moved, an oil company source said !!