An Indian woman walks past damaged houses after returning to a cyclone-hit village in Pudumpeta, Ganjam district, Orissa state, India, Monday, Oct. 14, 2013. A mass government evacuation of nearly 1 million people spared India the widespread deaths many had feared from the powerful weekend cyclone, which destroyed hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of crops and tens of thousands of homes. (AP Photo/Bikas Das)
PODAMPETTA, India (AP) - Agya Amma's house in this seaside village
was flattened by the cyclone that roared in from the Bay of Bengal with
torrential rains and winds topping 200 kilometers (131 miles) per hour.
But the fact that she was still here on Monday, surveying the pile of
twisted wood and shredded thatch that had been her home, was proof that
this was a different kind of disaster for India.
Unlike past storms that have lashed India's eastern coast, Cyclone
Phailin did not extract a heavy human toll, thanks to a massive and
improbable evacuation effort that effectively moved nearly 1 million
residents of one of India's poorest regions out of the storm's path and
into government shelters.
By Monday, only 25 people had been reported killed, even though tens
of thousands of homes were destroyed. The successful evacuation effort
was earning rare praise for a country known for large-scale disasters
that have caused high death tolls. In 1999, a cyclone that struck the
same coast killed about 10,000 people, while more than 6,000 were killed
in June by flooding and mudslides in another Indian state, Uttarakhand.
"If we had stayed here, everyone in the village would be dead," said
Amma, a 55-year-old fisherwoman. "I consider myself lucky to be alive."
Despite the comparatively low number of deaths, Phailin still dealt
its share of misery, as hundreds of thousands of coastal residents found
themselves huddling in shelters, their homes flattened and crops
destroyed by the most powerful storm to hit India in more than a decade.
At least four days before the cyclone hit, police in the coastal
states of Orissa and Andhra Pradesh began traveling through villages to
warn residents of the coming storm and urge them to go to government
shelters set up in schools and other concrete buildings.
While a few chose to ignore the warnings or stay home to guard their
belongings, many had lived through the cyclone 14 years ago that killed
By Friday, the day before the cyclone hit land, hundreds of thousands
of people had moved inland. Amma and others from her tiny village of
Podampetta walked 1.5 kilometers (a mile) to the nearest shelter and
spent 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 she
had 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 were
distributing tarps so people could build makeshift shelters, state
police official M.N. Rao said.
"Relief centers have been opened, and food is being supplied to the
people, 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 isolated
areas along the cyclone-battered coast, and parts of Orissa were still
facing massive flooding after heavy rains brought by the cyclone caused
rivers to overflow.
Hundreds of thousands of people were marooned Monday in the district
of Balasore, where the situation "is critical," according to P.K.
Mohapatra, the state's head of relief operations. Authorities were
air-dropping packages of food in the area, while army personnel and
speed boats were deployed to help with rescue and relief operations.
The Indian coast guard rescued 17 sailors whose cargo ship, the MV
Bingo, sank during the cyclone, officials said. They were taken to a
hospital in Kolkata for a check-up and are safe now, coast guard
Commandant Rajendra Nath told the Press Trust of India news agency.
Meanwhile, the weakened storm was moving north Monday over the state
of Bihar toward the Himalayan state of Sikkim, which was bracing for
The Indian Ocean is a cyclone hot spot. Of the 35 deadliest storms in
recorded history, 27 have come through the Bay of Bengal - including
the 1999 cyclone - and have landed in either India or Bangladesh.