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Cyclone threatens India, Pakistan

A cyclone claimed more than 1,000 lives in Gujarat in 1998  

AHMEDABAD, India -- India and Pakistan were Friday bracing themselves for a potentially disastrous cyclone, evacuating thousands of people from the areas most at risk.

Boats had been stopped from putting out to sea but there were still between 1,500 and 2,000 boats out fishing, most of which did not have any communication systems, said the English-language Dawn daily newspaper.

One of the country's biggest ports was closed down as the cyclone loitered offshore, threatening the western Indian state of Gujarat and neighbouring Pakistan.

Ships docked at Kandla, hammered by a cyclone which killed more than 1,000 people in 1998, were moved away from jetties to minimise damage, port chairman A.K. Joti told Reuters news agency.

"All normal port operations have been suspended," he said.

Pakistan issued a cyclone alert Friday but said it was too early to say if the storm would hit.

"Sea conditions are phenomenal... The fisherman of coastal areas are strictly advised not to venture into the open sea for the next few days," the alert said.

Uncertain path

The storm was drifting away from the coast Friday, but Gujarat remained at risk, officials said.

"It can still recurve and make landfall on the south Gujarat coast by Saturday evening," an official at the weather office in the state's main city Ahmedabad said.

A U.S. Navy weather website showed the cyclone had moved slightly to the northwest and plotted a trajectory for the next three days that bypassed Gujarat, but which suggested Pakistan could be in the storm path.

Indian weather officials said the storm remained almost stationary for 12 hours and was swirling over the Arabian Sea 500 km (300 miles) south of the port of Veraval.

Gujarat, devastated by an earthquake in January, has evacuated thousands of people from the coastline and cautioned people in interior areas.

Some 10,000 salt-marsh workers along the Saurashtra coast have already been evacuated to safer places and the army has been put on alert.

Chaudhry Qamaruz Zaman, director general of the Pakistan MET office, told Reuters that it was still too early to predict if the cyclone -- which has sent thousands of people in India's state of Gujarat scrambling for safety -- would hit Pakistan.

"It is moving very slowly ... we will have a better picture of its direction in the next 24 hours," Zaman said.

The U.S. Navy bulletin said the cyclone was moving slowly in northwesterly direction and was centred at 17.0 N and 68.0 E at 500 km (312 miles) south southwest of the Gujrat coast and 900 km (562 miles) south of Karachi.

Reuters contributed to this report.

• U.S. Navy weather website

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