PODAMPETTA, India (AP) - Agya Amma's house in this seaside villagewas flattened by the cyclone that roared in from the Bay of Bengal withtorrential rains and winds topping 200 kilometers (131 miles) per hour.But the fact that she was still here on Monday, surveying the pile oftwisted wood and shredded thatch that had been her home, was proof thatthis was a different kind of disaster for India.
Unlike past storms that have lashed India's eastern coast, CyclonePhailin did not extract a heavy human toll, thanks to a massive andimprobable evacuation effort that effectively moved nearly 1 millionresidents of one of India's poorest regions out of the storm's path andinto government shelters.
By Monday, only 25 people had been reported killed, even though tensof thousands of homes were destroyed. The successful evacuation effortwas earning rare praise for a country known for large-scale disastersthat have caused high death tolls. In 1999, a cyclone that struck thesame coast killed about 10,000 people, while more than 6,000 were killedin June by flooding and mudslides in another Indian state, Uttarakhand.
"If we had stayed here, everyone in the village would be dead," saidAmma, a 55-year-old fisherwoman. "I consider myself lucky to be alive."
Despite the comparatively low number of deaths, Phailin still dealtits share of misery, as hundreds of thousands of coastal residents foundthemselves huddling in shelters, their homes flattened and cropsdestroyed by the most powerful storm to hit India in more than a decade.
At least four days before the cyclone hit, police in the coastalstates of Orissa and Andhra Pradesh began traveling through villages towarn residents of the coming storm and urge them to go to governmentshelters set up in schools and other concrete buildings.
While a few chose to ignore the warnings or stay home to guard theirbelongings, many had lived through the cyclone 14 years ago that killed10,000.
By Friday, the day before the cyclone hit land, hundreds of thousandsof people had moved inland. Amma and others from her tiny village ofPodampetta walked 1.5 kilometers (a mile) to the nearest shelter andspent two nights waiting out the storm.
On Monday, residents ventured out to see the destruction, and many of them learned that they had lost everything.
"There is nothing to eat, no place for me to stay," said Buchi Amma,50, another Podampetta villager not related to Agya Amma. She said shehad no idea how she and her husband would be able to buy food.
"I only want life to get back to normal," she said, standing atop the concrete slabs of her shattered home.
A lake the size of a football field, formed when sea water surged ashore, cut across the main road out of Podampetta.
For the tens of thousands made homeless, authorities weredistributing tarps so people could build makeshift shelters, statepolice official M.N. Rao said.
"Relief centers have been opened, and food is being supplied to thepeople, both dry rations as well as cooked food when possible," he said.
Officials worked Monday to clear roads and restore communications. Train services were being restarted.
The death toll of 25 was expected to rise as officials reach isolatedareas along the cyclone-battered coast, and parts of Orissa were stillfacing massive flooding after heavy rains brought by the cyclone causedrivers to overflow.
Hundreds of thousands of people were marooned Monday in the districtof Balasore, where the situation "is critical," according to P.K.Mohapatra, the state's head of relief operations. Authorities wereair-dropping packages of food in the area, while army personnel andspeed boats were deployed to help with rescue and relief operations.
The Indian coast guard rescued 17 sailors whose cargo ship, the MVBingo, sank during the cyclone, officials said. They were taken to ahospital in Kolkata for a check-up and are safe now, coast guardCommandant Rajendra Nath told the Press Trust of India news agency.
Meanwhile, the weakened storm was moving north Monday over the stateof Bihar toward the Himalayan state of Sikkim, which was bracing forheavy rains.
The Indian Ocean is a cyclone hot spot. Of the 35 deadliest storms inrecorded history, 27 have come through the Bay of Bengal - includingthe 1999 cyclone - and have landed in either India or Bangladesh.