Bhubaneswar/Srikakulum, (Hindustan Times): Cyclone Phailin, the most powerful storm to hit India in more than a decade, waned considerably on Sunday morning, nearly 12 hours after it made landfall at the port town of Gopalpur in Odisha.
The weakened system is moving beyond Odisha towards the northwest with a speed of 20km per hour, according to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD).
The special relief commissioner of Odisha told HT that three people died after Phailin struck, but the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) said there were no casualties. On Saturday, trees uprooted by the winds had killed five people in Odisha before the cyclone made landfall.
“Our teams are out in both Odisha and Andhra Pradesh for rescue and relief operations. So far we have not received any report of casualties anywhere,” NDRF chief Krishna Chowdhary told news agency PTI.
Operations to rescue those trapped under the debris are on in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, where more than 3,000 personnel of NDRF have been deployed.
Meanwhile, authorities are struggling to restore power supplies and telecommunication links as the winds snapped thousands of trees and poles, while buildings and some communication towers were destroyed. Before Phailin made landfall on Saturday, power supplies were shut down as a precaution.
The IMD said gale wind speed of 100-110 km per hour would gradually decrease to 80-90 km per hour by noon and further to 50-60 km per hour by Sunday evening over Odisha.
Heavy rains continued to lash more than a 150-km stretch along the coastline. More than a dozen coastal villages have been submerged by the cyclone that was classified as a Category 4 storm on a scale of 1 to 5.
By late Sunday evening, a deep depression is likely cause heavy rainfall over Bihar.
No loss of life was reported from Andhra Pradesh, which was also expected to be hit by the cyclone but mostly escaped its fury.
“Cyclone Phailin is gradually losing intensity, but it is still classified as a severe cyclone,” Sharad Sahu, director of the weather department in Odisha.
According to Cyclocane, a cyclone tracking website, said the storm has weakened below warning levels and the storm system is no longer a tropical cyclone.
The remnants of the storm are likely to dump “heavy to very heavy rains” across Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh in the next 24 hours. Parts of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh were also expected to see heavy rainfall.
Authorities in Odisha were assessing the damage that Phailin would have caused overnight before moving inland, but their task was complicated by a prolonged power shutdown and snapping of telephone services in the affected areas.
Eye witness reports said the powerful winds on Saturday snapped trees like matchsticks and swept away rooftops besides flattening paddy crop across a large swathe of farmland. Heavy damage is feared in Odisha’s Ganjam district and the coastal stretch between Andhra towns of Kalingapatnam and Ichapuram.
There were also reports of a swollen Chilika – Asia’s largest brackish water lake that lies 50 km north of Gopalpur – inundating villages and cutting off many road links in the interior.
The storm, which made landfall early Saturday night near the town of Golpalpur in Orissa state, was expected to cause large-scale power and communications outages and shut down road and rail links, officials said. It’s also expected to cause extensive damage to crops.
About 6.5 lakh people were evacuated from the storm’s path, in what is said to be the biggest peacetime human movement in the country in 23 years. More than 1,700 soldiers besides rescue teams from the navy were kept on standby for emergencies.
News of Phailin has been making headlines since it was formed in the Bay of Bengal earlier this week and churned its way across the high seas, turning into what many feared could be a repeat of the super cyclone of 1999, which killed more than 10,000 people and left behind such destruction that took years to be undone.
But disaster preparations have improved substantially since then. The air force pressed into operation its biggest transport plane, the gigantic C-17, to airlift ambulances and relief material, while helicopters and navy warships were close at hand.
The authorities were forced to release water from the Hirakud and Damodar Valley dams to prevent a breach as the rain pelted down, potentially posing a flooding threat.
Once the extent of damage becomes clear, relief and rehabilitation efforts will get into full swing. The evacuated are crammed into schools and temples, and preventing waterborne diseases will be a major focus.
Latest on Cyclone Phailin • Director general Indian Meteorological Department LS Rathore said flood warning has been issued in Bihar as an advancing Phailin may lead to heavy rains in catchments of Kosi and Gandak rivers.
• Heavy rains today lashed Jharkhand, as a peripheral effect of Phailin. A Met official said 74.6 mm rain was recorded in Ranchi till 8.30 am while Jamshedpur (52.4 mm) and Bokaro (58.4 mm) also experienced heavy rainfall and surface winds.
• No trains moved on Bhadrak-Khurda Road-Palasa-Vizianagaram route as Phailin uprooted high-tension towers and signals and damaged platforms, while uprooted trees blocked tracks.
• Overbridges and platform shelters at Brahmapur, Ganjam, Somepeta, Balugaon, Mancheswar and Khurda Road stations were either blown away or damaged.
• Overhead equipments at Khurda Road-Palasa, Cuttack-Paradeep and Barang-Khurda Road sections were not functioning.
• Cargo ship MV Bingo headed for China with a crew of 20 members and a load of 8,000 tonnes of iron ore is believed to have sunk in the rough seas caused by Phailin. Its crew on a lifeboat was last sighted east of Sagar in West Bengal, a top Kolkata Port Trust official said on Sunday.