“Heavy to very heavy rain is also likely to occur over the remaining districts of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry," the IMD said. The cyclone will also lead to isolated spells of rain in Andhra Pradesh and Kerala.
The cyclone has been changing its pattern and direction over the last few days and has intensified into a severe storm. It was initially expected to hit the coast of Chennai, but has moved towards the southwest and will cross Tamil Nadu between Pamban in Ramanathapuram district and Cuddalore around Nagapattinam with a wind speed of 80-90 kilometre per hour (kmph) gusting to 100kmph.
Gaja is likely to make landfall in Tamil Nadu between 8pm and 11pm. The cyclone was earlier expected to cross the coast on Thursday afternoon.
A cyclone warning signal 10, which signifies a very severe cyclone, was sounded at the Nagapattinam port.
People residing in low-lying areas have been moved to shelters arranged by the government. More than 5,000 relief centres have been kept ready in all the 13 coastal districts of Tamil Nadu. Fishing operations have been suspended, in line with the advisory of the meteorological department.
The Tamil Nadu State Disaster Management Authority has publicized helpline numbers and have been issuing alerts through social media, radio, television and TN SMART mobile app. The state helpline is 1070, while the district helpline number is 1077. A list of dos and don’ts has also been issued by the government.
All rescue and relief arrangements were in place, said R.B. Udayakumar, the minister for revenue administration, disaster management and mitigation.
Nine teams of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) have been deployed in Tamil Nadu, while two are in Puducherry to provide emergency assistance.
Seven teams of the Tamil Nadu government’s disaster response force have also been deployed to face the onslaught of Gaja, said the minister.
Schools and colleges remained shut in the districts were Gaja is likely to hit, universities have cancelled examinations. Train services have been suspended, some partially and others fully.
On Tuesday, Central Water Commission of the Union ministry of water resources had issued an advisory to keep dams in the state on high alert.
“Extremely heavy rainfall in the catchment area is sufficient to fill them up and lapse time between rainfall and peak inflow can be less than 24 hours and, in some cases, it can be as low as 6-12 hours," said the advisory note addressed to the Tamil Nadu government.
It also said that round the clock vigil is needed at all dams especially in small and medium dams.