India's big evacuation spares most from Cyclone Phailin's wrath

Big evacuation in path of 200km/h Cyclone Phailin saves many lives

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 October, 2013, 2:40pm
UPDATED : Monday, 14 October, 2013, 8:52am

India's strongest storm in 14 years left a trail of destruction along the country's east coast yesterday, but the biggest evacuation in the country's history helped minimise casualties.

At least 873,000 people in the states of Orissa and adjacent Andhra Pradesh spent the night in shelters, some of which had been built after a 1999 storm killed 10,000 in the same area. Others sought safety in schools or temples, in an exercise disaster management officials called one of India's largest evacuations.

"We saved lives by putting them in shelters in time," said Orissa's special relief commissioner, J.K. Mohapatra.

Video: 'Red alert' as massive cyclone bears down on India

Most of the local population spent the night huddled in shelters and public buildings as deafening winds sent debris from homes flattened by 200km/h winds flying through the air.

Yesterday soldiers and rescue workers in helicopters, boats and trucks fanned out across the two states, but officials were confident that a major disaster had been avoided.

"All road communications will be opened by evening. Most likely electricity will also be restored in the majority of districts," Mohapatra said. "Now people are going back to their homes. Where their homes have been devastated, they will continue to stay in relief camps. We will provide them food."

Phailin made landfall on Saturday from the Bay of Bengal. It was expected to dissipate within 36 hours, losing momentum as it headed inland.

Eighteen people were known to have died as a result of the storm - 17 of them Orissa - though the final death toll was expected to climb further as officials reached areas of the cyclone-battered coast that remained isolated by downed communication links.

Further northeast, port officials said they feared a Panama-registered cargo ship, the MV Bingo, carrying 8,000 tonnes of iron ore and with a crew of 17 Chinese sailors and an Indonesian, had sunk on Saturday in the Bay of Bengal.

"The crew left the ship in a lifeboat around 4pm on Saturday but have not been traced yet," I. Jeyakumar, deputy chairman of the Kolkata Port Trust, said.

They were probably alive, he added, citing radio contacts.

The India Meteorological Department said although the worst was over, heavy rainfall could be expected in at least five states over the next 24 hours.

Additional reporting by Associated Press, Agence France-Presse