Valdosta Daily Times

National, International News

October 14, 2013

Mass evacuation before Indian cyclone limited toll

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 cyclone-battered 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, crediting the mass evacuations.

On the highway to the seaside city of Gopalpur, where the storm made landfall early Saturday night, two tractor-trailers with shattered windshields were lying on their sides, while a hotel nearby was in tatters, with tables and chairs strewn about.

“We were terrified,” A-1 Hotel owner Mihar Ranjan said of himself and 14 other people who had been huddling inside when the wind ripped the tin roof off the building.

On Sunday, Gopalpur’s power lines sagged nearly to the ground and a strong surf churned off the coast. But some shops were opened, doing brisk business selling bottled drinks and snacks, and locals expressed relief that the damage wasn’t worse.

A mermaid statue remained standing on Gopalpur’s boardwalk, where most decorative street lamps still stood along with most of the city’s buildings.

“Everyone feels very lucky,” said Prabhati Das, a 40-year-old woman who came from the town of Behrampur, about 10 kilometers (7 miles) inland, to see the aftermath at the coast.

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 185 kilometers (115 miles) off the Indian coast, coast guard Commandant Sharad Matri said.

Phailin weakened significantly after making landfall as a Category 4 storm, with sustained winds of up to 210 kilometers per hour (131 miles per hour), according to Indian meteorologists. Those numbers were slightly lower than the last advisory issued by the U.S. Navy’s Hawaii-based Joint Typhoon Warning Center, which reported maximum sustained winds of about 222 kph (138 mph) and gusts up to 268 kph (167 mph) four hours before the storm hit land.

Midday on Sunday, some areas reported little more than breezy drizzles, with winds in some areas blowing at 161 kph (100 mph). Meteorologists warned that Orissa and other states in the storm’s path would face heavy rains, strong winds and rough seas for several more hours.

“Its intensity is still strong, but after crossing the coast it has weakened considerably,” Sharat Sahu, a top official with the Indian Meteorological Dept. in Orissa, told reporters.

Indian officials spoke dismissively of American forecasters who earlier had warned of a record-breaking cyclone that would drive a massive wall of water — perhaps as large as 9 meters high (30 feet high) — into the coastline.

“They have been issuing warnings, and we have been contradicting them,” said L.S. Rathore, director-general of the Indian Meteorological Department. “That is all that I want to say.”

“As a scientist, we have our own opinion and we stuck to that. We told them that is what is required as a national weather service — to keep people informed with the reality without being influenced by over-warning,” he said at a news conference in New Delhi, the capital.

Predicting how massive storms will develop is difficult in the Bay of Bengal, where there are no tidal gauges, ocean buoys or aircraft flying into storms to measure winds directly. Instead, both U.S. and Indian meteorologists rely on satellite imagery to assess a storm’s strength and path.

The Indian government had faced immense public criticism after its slow response to deadly floods and mudslides in June in the northern state of Uttarakhand, where more than 6,000 people were killed.

But officials took few chances with Phailin, especially given memories of a 1999 Orissa cyclone that devastated the coastline and left at least 10,000 people dead.

Nearly 1 million people were evacuated from the coast ahead of Phailin, including more than 870,000 in Orissa and more than 100,000 in neighboring Andhra Pradesh.

Still, some either missed the evacuation or chose to ride out the storm near the coast, for fear of losing their homes and livestock to possible looting.

Truck driver M.D. Makasad Ali had set out Saturday night from the coast for Behrampur, but was forced by strong winds to pull over and shelter in his cab.

“At around midnight, the wind shook the truck and it fell over,” the 25-year-old said. He managed to crawl out of a broken window and run for cover at a hotel.

Carpenter Pitambar Moharanat, 65, spent the night terrified in his employer’s seaside building in Gopalpur, where for six hours he listened to screaming winds shake the bolted wooden shutters until the winds eased at around 3 a.m.

“I am thanking God for sparing us,” he said.

For days before the storm hit, officials had been stockpiling food and setting up hundreds of shelters. The Indian military put some forces on alert, with trucks, planes and helicopters ready for relief operations.

Electric utility authorities in Orissa switched off the power in 12 districts after scores of electric pylons toppled from the torrential rain and high winds.

The storm wreaked havoc in Behrampur, with the wind shattering windows, blowing down trees and electrical poles, and terrifying residents. But only three people died in the town, a security official said.

“The trees and the buildings could not be saved, but the people have been evacuated, so the human toll was contained so far,” said Naresh Sharma, a commander with the Indian Central Reserve Police Force.

For the people living along the coast, many of whom live as subsistence farmers in mud-and-thatch huts, the economic toll will be immense.

Heavy rains and surging seawater destroyed more than 500,000 hectares (1.23 million acres) of crops worth an estimated 24 billion rupees ($395 million), according to Orissa’s disaster minister, S.N. Patro.

British Prime Minister David Cameron described the damage as “shocking,” and said in a Twitter message that Britain would do “what it can to help.”

With some of the world’s warmest waters, the Indian Ocean is a cyclone hot spot, and 27 of the 35 deadliest known storms in history — including the 1999 cyclone — have come through the Bay of Bengal and landed in either India or Bangladesh.

1
Text Only
National, International News
  • Stowaway teen forces review of airport security

    A 15-year-old boy found his way onto an airport’s tarmac and climbed into a jetliner’s wheel well, then flew for five freezing hours to Hawaii — a misadventure that forced authorities to take a hard look at the security system that protects the nation’s airline fleet.

    April 22, 2014

  • South Korea Ship Sink_Rich copy.jpg Death count in ferry sinking tops 100

    One by one, coast guard officers carried the newly arrived bodies covered in white sheets from a boat to a tent on the dock of this island, the first step in identifying a sharply rising number of corpses from a South Korean ferry that sank nearly a week ago.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP520422034 copy.jpg Today in History for Tuesday, April 22, 2014

    Today is Tuesday, April 22, the 112th day of 2014. There are 253 days left in the year.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Immigration _Rich copy.jpg DHS secretary re-evaluating deportation priorities

    Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Wednesday he’s re-evaluating the Obama administration’s deportation priorities to make certain they’re focused on national security, public safety and border security, amid growing pressure from the Latino community and President Barack Obama’s fellow Democrats. 

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Rethinking Pot 420_Rich copy.jpg Public smoke-out marks pot holiday in Colorado

    Tens of thousands of revelers raised joints, pipes and vaporizer devices to the sky Sunday at a central Denver park in a defiant toast to the April 20 pot holiday, a once-underground celebration that stepped into the mainstream in the first state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Submarine Sleep Sched_Rich copy.jpg Navy OKs changes for submariners’ sleep schedules

    With no sunlight to set day apart from night on a submarine, the U.S. Navy for decades has staggered sailors’ working hours on schedules with little resemblance to life above the ocean’s surface.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • South Korea Ship Sink_Rich copy.jpg Grim work for families as more bodies discovered

    There are no names listed as relatives huddle around signboards to identify bodies from a sunken ferry. Just the slimmest of clues about mostly young lives now lost. Many favored hoodies and track pants. One girl painted her fingernails red and toenails black. Another had braces on her teeth.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP600421099 copy.jpg Today in History for Monday, April 21, 2014

    Today is Monday, April 21, the 111th day of 2014. There are 254 days left in the year.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Space Robot_Rich copy.jpg NASA’s Robonaut finally getting legs

    Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Nepal Everest Avalanc_Rich copy.jpg Another body pulled from snow in avalanche

    Search teams recovered a 13th body Saturday from the snow and ice covering a dangerous climbing pass on Mount Everest, where an avalanche a day earlier swept over a group of Sherpa guides in the deadliest disaster on the world’s highest peak.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

Top News
Poll

Given the amount of rain recently, what's your favorite “rain” song?

Singing in the Rain
Purple Rain
Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
November Rain
Rainy Night in Georgia
Other
     View Results