11:57am

Sun October 13, 2013
The Two-Way

Cyclone Phailin Leaves Debris And Relatively Few Casualties

Originally published on Sun October 13, 2013 4:40 pm

Indian officials are reporting far fewer casualties than had been feared when the large and powerful cyclone Phailin struck the country's east coast Saturday. But the storm, which forced the evacuation of nearly 1 million people, has left flooding and destruction in its path.

One day after the storm struck the states of Orissa and Andhra Pradesh with winds of at least 125 mph, crews are working to clear fallen trees off roads and to open railway lines. And officials were voicing relief that the cyclone didn't approach the devastation brought by a 1999 "supercyclone" that killed some 10,000 people in the same area.

Phailin has been blamed for 17 deaths, many caused by falling tree branches and collapsed houses. On Sunday, National Disaster Management Authority Marri Shashidhar Reddy said the mass evacuation had been effective. And he criticized international groups that had warned of more damage and stronger winds.

"After the exaggerated manner international agencies tried to portray it [the cyclone and disaster], the NDMA has done an excellent job," he said, according to Agence France-Presse.

The fact that this year's storm didn't exact such a staggering human toll as in 1999 is due to advances in India, according to Victor Mallet, the South Asia bureau chief for The Financial Times.

"Many more people have mobile phones. In the old days, it was just very hard to make contact with remote areas by landline, and now almost everybody has a mobile phone," Mallet tells NPR's Rachel Martin on today's Weekend Edition.

"So, I think that the better infrastructure plus the predictions that the storm was coming and the preparations that were made meant that the human damage, at least, was not as severe as it was back then," he says.

While India's chief weather agency has a website, it also used Facebook to send alerts about the cyclone. Visitors to the agency's site on Saturday found that its servers seemed to be overwhelmed — but the alerts were appearing on Facebook, making social media efforts even more vital.

The storm has left cars and trucks, trees and utility poles strewn across streets. Thousands of people who were displaced by the cyclone remain in temporary housing. The storm also destroyed hundreds of thousands of hectares of crops, officials say.

In Orissa, the state's Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik says that recovering from the strike will be a "big challenge," reports NDTV.

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