Cyclone Phailin kills 23, mass evacuations save thousands

Villagers affected by the Cyclone Phailin return to their villages at Chhatrapur in Odisha after the cyclone passed over the east coast on Sunday

Bhubaneshwar: An unprecedented and timely evacuation drive, said to be the country's biggest ever, ensured minimum casualties as Cyclone Phailin slammed into coastal Odisha on Saturday evening. 23 people, including two in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, have died in the aftermath of the "very severe" storm, which has since weakened. (Latest developments)

"The first priority was to save precious human lives and to a great extent we have achieved that," Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik told NDTV. (Watch) With memories of the killer "super cyclone" in 1999 that ravaged the state and left at least 10,000 people dead still fresh, the state government moved to shift over nine lakh people to safer places before the storm hit. Over a lakh in adjoining Andhra Pradesh also huddled in shelters and government buildings.

Earlier on Sunday, Mr Patnaik, while speaking to reporters, said that rehabilitating those displaced now posed a "big challenge."

Heavy rains and surging seawater, accompanying Phailin, the strongest storm to hit the
country in more than a decade, flattened tens of thousands of thatched homes, destroyed more than five lakh hectares of crops and knocked out power lines.

The worst affected area, around the coastal town of Gopalpur 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.

"Most of Odisha should have electricity back within 12 hours, by tomorrow morning. Water supplies should also be restored in much of the state later tonight," RS Gopalan, a senior state government official coordinating relief operations, told AFP on Sunday. (Track updates)

The Indian Meteorological Department or IMD, whose predictions for the cyclone were consistently below those from foreign meteorologists who foresaw higher wind speeds and greater damage, comparable to the 2005 Hurricane Katrina, stood vindicated. (Read)

"After the exaggerated manner in which international agencies tried to portray it (the cyclone and disaster), the IMD has done an excellent job," said M Shashidhar Reddy, vice chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority.
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