BHUBANESWAR: Cyclone Phailin left a trail of destruction along India’s east coast on Sunday and upto seven people dead after the biggest evacuation in the country’s history helped minimize casualties.
As emergency teams began assessing damage from the country’s biggest cyclone in 14 years, a massive relief effort went into full swing to distribute food to an estimated one million evacuees, clear roads and help the injured.
Most of the local population spent the night huddled in shelters and public buildings as deafening winds flattened flimsy homes, uprooted trees and sent glass and asbestos strips flying through the air.
The worst affected area around the town of Gopalpur, where the eye of Phailin packing winds of 200 kilometers came ashore, remained cut off with emergency services rushing to reach there.
Raj Kishor Muduli, a delivery driver who lives just outside state capital Bhubaneswar, said the whole of his village had spent the night hunkering down in a communal shelter.
“We were all afraid, the whole village was afraid, we didn’t know how strong the winds would be,” the 43-year-old told Agence France-Presse in the morning when the winds had died down and heavy overnight rainfall had ceased.
“Everyone was awake the whole night to see what the size of storm would be and to be on guard.”
Electricity was down in large parts of Orissa and neighboring Andhra Pradesh while queues formed outside petrol stations with fuel rationed to five liters per vehicle.
High-sided trucks lying on their sides were witness to the strength of the winds on the main highway south of Gopalpur, which was littered with uprooted trees and other debris.
“Our teams have fanned out on the ground, they are running searches, trying to check if there have been any casualties, check the extent of the damage,” said Sandeep Rai Rathore, inspector general of the army’s National Disaster Response Force.
More than 8,000 people were killed in 1999 when a cyclone hit the same region, devastating crops and livestock from which the region took years to recover.
This time round, a massive evacuation operation, which officials said was the biggest in Indian history appeared to have succeeded in minimizing casualties.
“We were preparing for a super cyclone, but Phailin did not turn into a super cyclone,” spokeswoman for the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Tripti Parule.
“The last biggest evacuation in India’s recorded history was in Andhra Pradesh in 1990 [when another cyclone struck]—and this is now much bigger.”
The state of Orissa’s top rescue official said 860,000 people moved before the cyclone made landfall on Saturday evening, while at least another 100,000 were evacuated further south in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Residents were also evacuated from coastal regions of West Bengal state.