BHUBANESWAR, India - Rain and wind lashed India's east coast and nearly 400,000 people fled to cyclone shelters after the government issued a red alert and warned of severe damage when one of the largest storms the country has ever seen makes landfall later on Saturday.
Muslims and Hindus gathered at mosques and temples in Odisha state, praying 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.
Phailin was packing winds of at least 220 kph (137 mph) on Saturday morning and was expected to cause a 3.4-m (11-foot) surge in sea levels when it hits the coast in the evening, the India Meteorological Department said in a statement.
"The storm has high damage potential, considering windspeed," Lakshman Singh Rathore, head of the weather department, said on Friday.
Families walked through the rain to shelters, television images showed, as gusts of wind snapped branches from trees. Tourists left popular beach resort Puri. Officials broadcast cyclone warnings through loudspeakers, radio and television.