Aid agencies in India say a mass evacuation saved thousands of lives when India’s strongest cyclone in 14 years struck at the weekend, but warn that around a million will still need help after their homes and livelihoods were destroyed.


Cyclone Phailin was dissipating rapidly after pounding the states of Orissa and Andhra Pradesh overnight Saturday to Sunday, uprooting trees, overturning trucks, flattening homes and knocking out power lines.

Seventeen people were killed in Orissa and one further south in Andhra Pradesh, government and disaster management officials said.

“The 17 deaths were due to people being crushed by falling trees, walls, roofs,” R.S. Gopalan, the senior state government official co-ordinating relief operations in Orissa said.

Director General of Police Prakesh Mishra says the relatively low number of casualties is in contrast to the 10,000 killed by Odisha’s last big cyclone in 1999.

“There’s a huge sense of relief in this part of India that despite the ferocity of the cyclone that the death toll remains at only 7. The government has received kudos from international aid organisations that are on the ground. Everybody involved in the rescue effort has said that this time around the government acted in a very orderly manner.”

Casualties were minimised after the biggest evacuation in the country’s history saw a million people huddle in shelters and government buildings as the ferocious storm took hold.

Some 600,000 people were left homeless in Orissa after the country’s biggest cyclone in 14 years swept through 14,000 villages, the state’s special relief commissioner, Pradipta Kumar Mohapatra said.

Families, who only hours earlier fled to shelters, returned to discover what was left of their flimsy homes.

Many, holding their children, picked through the debris. Others simply sat on the ground in their village clutching bags of possessions.

“I lost my house and also a small shaving shop, I lost everything,” Janardan, 32, who uses one name, said from inside his tiny dwelling in Gopalpur.

The cyclone collapsed the roof, leaving Janardan and his wife to begin the clean-up.

The worst affected area, around the town of Gopalpur in Orissa where the eye of Phailin came ashore packing winds of 200 kilometres an hour, was still without power as emergency services rushed to help people living there.

Hundreds of workers from the country’s National Disaster Response Force fanned out across the region, clearing away fallen trees from roads, mangled power poles and other debris, a statement said.

Other relief workers distributed food at shelters and treated the injured, while authorities worked to restore power and other services.

“Most of Orissa should have electricity back within 12 hours. Water supplies should also be restored in much of the state later tonight,” state official Gopalan said.

Around 1000 people marooned by the storm surge in a village in Andhra Pradesh were rescued by boat, a top disaster response official told a press conference.

At the same press conference, vice chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Marri Shashidhar Reddy put the total death toll slightly lower, at 14, with 13 killed in Orissa and one in Andhra Pradesh.

He praised relief workers for keeping the “death toll to a bare minimum”.

More than 8000 people were killed in 1999 when a cyclone hit the same region, devastating crops and livestock. The area took years to recover.

This time round, the massive evacuation operation, which officials said was the biggest in Indian history, appeared to have succeeded in minimising casualties.