India cyclone leaves trail of destruction, but few casualties

India cyclone leaves trail of destruction, but few casualties
An Indian auto-rickshaw driver pushes his three wheeler through water logged streets during heavy rains in Hyderabad on October 9, 2013.

GANJAM/BHUBANESWAR, India - India's strongest storm in 14 years left a trail of destruction along the country's east coast on Sunday, but little loss of life was reported after close to a million people took refuge in shelters.

Cyclone Phailin was expected to dissipate within 36 hours, losing momentum as it headed inland after making landfall on Saturday from the Bay of Bengal, bringing winds of more than 200 kph (125 mph) to rip up homes and tear down trees.

Authorities in the state of Odisha said the death toll stood at seven people, all killed as winds whipped the coast before the storm slammed in, four by falling trees and one when the walls of her mud house collapsed.

The cyclone was one of three major storms over Asia on Sunday. The smaller Typhoon Nari was approaching Vietnam and Typhoon Wipha loomed over the Pacific.

At least 873,000 people in Odisha and adjacent Andhra Pradesh spent the night in shelters, some of which had been built after a 1999 storm killed 10,000 in the same area. Others sought safety in schools or temples, in an exercise disaster management officials called one of India's largest evacuations.

"We saved lives by putting them in shelters in time," said Odisha's special relief commissioner, J.K. Mohapatra.

There had been concern for 18 fishermen out at sea when the cyclone bore down, but police said on Sunday that all returned safe.

Further northeast, port officials said they feared a Panama-registered cargo ship, the MV Bingo, carrying 8,000 tonnes of iron ore with a crew of 17 Chinese and an Indonesian, had sunk on Saturday as the storm churned across the Bay of Bengal.

"The crew left the ship in a lifeboat around 4 p.m. on Saturday but have not been traced yet," I. Jeyakumar, deputy chairman of the Kolkata Port Trust, told Reuters.

But they were probably alive, he added, as radio contacts had been maintained until early on Sunday morning.

On land, truck driver Jayaram Yadav, transporting cars halfway across India, huddled in the cab of his 28-ton vehicle on Saturday night as the wind howled around him.

"I was just thinking: it's going to topple over - and then it did," said Yadav, who survived unscathed as his cargo of eight vehicles was scattered across a coastal highway.

Television broadcast images of cars flipped on their sides and streets strewn with debris in the silk-producing city of Brahmapur, one of the worst-hit areas.

 

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