Cyclone Phailin makes landfall on India’s east coast
BHUBANESWAR, India (CNN) — People in eastern India were waiting for morning light Sunday to reveal the extent of devastation from Tropical Cyclone Phailin, which made landfall with winds of 140 mph — the strongest storm to hit India in 14 years.
The center of the storm crossed the coast Saturday around 9 p.m. (11:30 a.m. ET) in eastern Odisha state, along the Bay of Bengal, based on images from satellite and radar.
Hurricanes are known as cyclones in the Indian Ocean, and the wind speed at landfall made it equivalent to a Category 4 hurricane.
India evacuated more than a half-million people in advance of the storm, hoping to avoid a repetition of what happened 1999, when a cyclone claimed 10,000 lives.
“We have taken a zero-casualty approach,” said Odisha state disaster manager Kamal Lochan Mishra. “If people do not move, force will be used to evacuate them.”
Since Friday, Phailin has brought nearly 8 inches of rain to Odisha’s capital of Bhubaneswar, about 30 miles from the coast. The city’s average rainfall for October is 6.5 inches.
The rain had subsided by 4 a.m. Sunday but soon started again in earnest, said Prabir Panda, 37, an IT company co-founder in Bhubaneswar who spoke to CNN.
A Twitter user named Roshnimo tweeted, “Very heavy rains and insane wind outside in Bhubaneswar. Whatever happened to it dissipating at the 6 hour mark after it hits the land?”
The storm will continue to fall apart as it moves over land, but tropical storm-force winds are still possible through early Monday, said CNN Meteorologist Judson Jones. Rainfall will also be a problem as Phailin moves up toward the Himalayas in Nepal.
Multiple states in the region were under weather warnings for excessive rainfall and thunderstorms for most of Sunday and into Monday, Jones said.
500,000 people evacuated
Residents were evacuated to safer places in Odisha and the neighboring state of Andhra Pradesh, national disaster-management authority chief Marri Shashidhar Reddy said.
More than 400,000 were moved to safety in Odisha alone, he told CNN.
There were conflicting reports about the death toll so far.
Odisha’s director-general of police, Prakash Mishra, told CNN that two men and a woman were killed by trees brought down by heavy winds in the state. Local police in Odisha told CNN’s sister network in India, CNN-IBN, that seven people had been killed by falling trees.
Many of those evacuated from low-lying coastal areas of Odisha left on foot or by bicycle, Kamal Lochan Mishra said.
They are being housed in nearly 250 emergency shelters set up in sturdy buildings like schools and government offices.
The Ganjam district of Odisha is expected to be the worst hit, with disaster preparedness efforts concentrated there, CNN-IBN reported.
The India Meteorological Department warned of extensive damage to kutcha houses, those made of flimsy materials like mud and bamboo, as well as damage to old buildings.
Power and communication lines are likely to suffer large-scale disruption. Extensive flooding will also disrupt rail and road traffic, and crops are likely to suffer major damage, it said.
In Gopalpur, a coastal resort town in Ganjam, restaurants were shuttered and streets deserted Saturday afternoon, as rain lashed down. Tourists and local residents were asked to leave the town.
Power was out in coastal areas including Kalingapatnam, from where about 80,000 people have been evacuated to relief camps, CNN-IBN reported. Some fishermen earlier told the broadcaster they had defied the order to leave, anxious to see what happened on the shore.
Some fear a repeat of what happened on October 29, 1999, when Cyclone 05B, also known as the Odisha Cyclone, made landfall in the same area, killing 10,000 people. It was the strongest tropical cyclone recorded in the Bay of Bengal, with winds of 155 mph at landfall, and it caused more than $2 billion in damage.
In advance of the storm, military units and National Disaster Response Force personnel were deployed to coastal areas with relief supplies and medical aid, CNN-IBN said. More than 20 medical teams flew to the region.
Federal and state government ministers are being briefed on the situation, the cabinet secretary said.
All flights to Odisha have been canceled and train services in the state are also disrupted, CNN’s sister network reported.
International humanitarian organization World Vision said it was helping local community groups prepare for the cyclone’s arrival.
“In a storm of this magnitude there is the potential for widespread damage to crops and livestock in the low-lying coastal areas and houses completely wiped away,” said Kunal Shah, the head of World Vision’s emergency response in India. “So while we are praying this storm loses intensity, we’re also preparing.”
The organization has worked for the past several years to train local people in disaster preparedness, including search and rescue, basic first aid and how to protect livestock, and has thousands of emergency response kits ready to hand out where needed.
“We believe communities are better prepared than they were when the devastating cyclone hit in 1999,” said Shah.
By Laura Smith-Spark. Harmeet Shah Singh and Lonzo Cook
CNN’s Lonzo Cook reported from Bhubaneswar and Harmeet Shah Singh from New Delhi and Laura Smith-Spark wrote and reported in London. CNN’s Khushbu Shah, Tom Sater and Ivan Cabrera contributed to this report.