BEHRAMPUR, India – Mass evacuations spared India the widespread deaths many had feared from a powerful weekend cyclone, officials said, as people picked up belongings and started repairing flooded towns, tangled power lines and tens of thousands of destroyed thatch homes.
Cyclone Phailin, the strongest tropical storm to hit India in more than a decade, destroyed hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of crops, but a day after it made landfall in Orissa state on the country’s east coast, authorities said they knew of only 17 fatalities.
The final toll is expected to climb as officials reach areas of the coast that remain isolated by downed communication links and blocked roads, but the evacuation of nearly 1 million people appeared to have saved many lives.
“Damage to property is extensive,” said Amitabh Thakur, the top police officer in the Orissa district worst-hit by the cyclone. “But few lives have been lost,” he said Sunday.
On Sunday, the seaside city of Gopalpur’s power lines sagged nearly to the ground and a strong surf churned off the coast. But some shops were opened and locals expressed relief that the damage wasn’t worse.
A cargo ship carrying iron ore, the MV Bingo, sank Saturday as the cyclone barreled through the Bay of Bengal. Its crew of 17 Chinese and one Indonesian were being rescued Sunday evening after their lifeboat was found about 115 miles off the Indian coast, coast guard Commandant Sharad Matri said.