14 Oct 2013

India cyclone wreaks havoc

8:08 am on 14 October 2013

A relief operation has begun in eastern India in the wake of a huge cyclone that killed at least 18 people, forced a million from homes and left a trail of destruction.

Cyclone Phailin was dissipating rapidly after pounding the states of Orissa and Andhra Pradesh overnight Saturday to Sunday, uprooting trees, overturning trucks, flattening homes and knocking out power lines.

Casualties were minimised after the biggest evacuation in the country's history saw a million people huddle in shelters and government buildings as the ferocious storm took hold, AFP reports.

Seventeen people were killed in Orissa and one further south in Andhra Pradesh, government and disaster management officials said.

Some 600,000 people were left homeless in Orissa after the country's biggest cyclone in 14 years swept through 14,000 villages, the state's special relief commissioner, Pradipta Kumar Mohapatra, told AFP.

Families, who only hours earlier fled to shelters, returned to discover what was left of their flimsy homes. Many, holding their children, picked through the debris. Others simply sat on the ground in their village clutching bags of possessions.

The worst affected area was around the town of Gopalpur in Orissa where the eye of Phailin came ashore packing winds of 200 km/h.

Hundreds of workers from the country's National Disaster Response Force fanned out across the Orissa region, clearing away fallen trees from roads, mangled power poles and other debris, a statement said.

Other relief workers distributed food at shelters and treated the injured, while authorities worked to restore power and other services.

More than 8000 people were killed in 1999 when a cyclone hit the same region, devastating crops and livestock. The area took years to recover.

This time round, the massive evacuation operation, which officials said was the biggest in Indian history, appeared to have succeeded in minimising casualties.