* Phailin kills at least 15
* Almost a million in shelters built after 1999 disaster
* Storm loses momentum as it heads inland
By Sruthi Gottipati and Jatindra Dash
GANJAM/BHUBANESWAR, India, Oct 13 A mass
evacuation saved thousands of people from India's fiercest
cyclone in 14 years, but aid workers warned a million would need
help after their homes and livelihoods were destroyed.
Cyclone Phailin was expected to dissipate within 36 hours,
losing momentum on Sunday as it headed inland after making
landfall from the Bay of Bengal, bringing winds of more than 200
kph (125 mph) that ripped apart tens of thousands of thatched
huts, mangled power lines and tore down trees.
Authorities in the eastern state of Odisha said the death
toll stood at 15 people, all killed as the storm slammed in from
the ocean. Most died under falling trees and one was crushed
when the walls of her mud hut fell in.
The low number of casualties stands in contrast to the
10,000 killed by Odisha's last big cyclone in 1999.
The building of hundreds of shelters since, warnings which
started five days before the storm and mass evacuations - often
by force - minimised loss of life, aid officials said.
Almost a million people in Odisha (formerly Orissa) state
and adjacent Andhra Pradesh spent the night in shelters, some
after wading though surging rivers to higher ground. Others
sought safety in schools or temples.
"The loss of life has been contained this time with early
information and speedy action of government," said Sandeep
Chachra, executive director of ActionAid India.
Indian media commentators were effusive in praise for the
evacuation operation and for accurate forecasting by India's Met
office. Before the storm, some foreign forecasters had warned
that India was underestimating its strength.
Authorities cancelled the holidays of civil servants during
the popular Hindu Dussehra festival, deployed disaster response
teams with heavy equipment as well as helicopters and boats for
rescue and relief operations.
Over the years, organisations like the Red Cross have
mobilised thousands of volunteers across the cyclone-prone
region, who are not only trained in basic first aid but also
help with evacuations and relief distribution.
Drills are organised so people know what to do when an alert
is issued, locking up their homes, leaving cattle in safe places
and taking only a few clothes and important documents with them.
"The 1999 cyclone was a real wake-up call for India. It was
at a time when economic growth was high and India was seen as
developing rapidly. It was embarrassing to be seen to be not
taking care of their people, even with all this development,"
said Unni Krishnan, head of disaster response for children's
charity Plan International.
The death of at least 89 worshippers at a temple celebrating
Dussehra in central India on Sunday was a
reminder that disasters with many casualties remain common. In
July floods and landslides killed nearly 6,000 people in India's
Phailin left a trail of destruction along the coast,
overturning cars and large trucks. Storm surges from the sea
submerged farmland near the coast, while heavy rain flooded
Along the highway through Ganjam district in Odisha, the
countryside was ravaged. An electricity tower lay in a mangled
heap, poles were dislodged, lines tangled and power was out in
much of the state. In villages, cranes lifted trees off crushed
A barber shop was tilted to one side. The students' common
room at Berhampur University was a gaping hole, its facade
knocked out by the cyclone.
"The wind was so strong I couldn't get out of here," Gandhi
Behera, a cook in a nearby snack shop said.
The Indian Red Cross said its initial assessments showed
that over 235,000 mud-and-thatch homes owned by poor fishing and
farming communities had been destroyed in Ganjam district alone.
It expects thousands of people to need help in coming days.
Plan International said it was concerned about the health
and sanitation needs of close to a million people and the impact
of the storm on people's livelihoods.
"They cannot stay in the shelters for long as they are
overcrowded and sanitation issues will crop up with the spread
of diseases such as diarrhoea and dysentery, especially amongst
young children," Mangla Mohanty, head of the Indian Red Cross in
Odisha, said by phone from Ganjam district.
In some parts of the state, people were making their way
through destroyed farmland toward their broken homes. Dozens
crammed onto mini-trucks and others trudged with sacks of
belongings. Mothers carried babies in their arms.
"There are no farms left. Everything has disappeared into
the water," said S. Dillirao, a paddy farmer, as he stood on his
Seawater had swept into his fields. "There's no way a single
crop will grow here now," he said.