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Tropical Cyclone Phailin: Hundreds of Thousands Spared

By Eric Leister, Meteorologist
October 15, 2013; 11:39 AM ET

Tropical Cyclone Phailin made landfall in northeastern India on Saturday, but advanced warnings and evacuations may have been what saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

The approach of Phailin, among the most powerful historical cyclones in the region, led to the evacuation of close to 1 million people according to CNN.

Warnings of Phailin's potential arrival in northeastern India were sounded early this past week.

Reports of fatalities vary, but at this early stage, range upward to over a dozen people. It may be days until all people in the storm's path are accounted for.

An Indian woman returns to the cyclone hit Arjipalli village on the Bay of Bengal coast in Ganjam district, Orissa state, India, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013. India began sorting through miles of wreckage Sunday after Cyclone Phailin roared ashore, flooding towns and villages and destroying tens of thousands of thatch homes, but officials said massive evacuation efforts had spared the east coast from widespread loss of life. The storm, the strongest to hit India in more than a decade, destroyed hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of crops, but more than 18 hours after it made landfall in Orissa state, officials said they knew of only nine fatalities. (AP Photo/Biswaranjan Rout)

While Phailin has weakened into a tropical rainstorm, rainfall from the once-powerful tropical cyclone is finally winding down.

The threat for widespread heavy rain and flooding is over across much of northern India, however some areas remain flooded after days of torrential downpours.

The storm has damaged or flooded many homes and other structures. Phailin displaced hundreds of thousands of people since making landfall in northeast India on Saturday.

In the wake of Phailin, efforts will now switch to recovery and aid.

A relief effort was underway early on Sunday, local time, as the military and relief workers began to make their way throughout the region in helicopters and trucks, Reuters reported.

People hold each others' hands and cross a water logged road as they return to their respective villages near Gopalpur, Orissa state, India, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013. India began sorting through miles of wreckage on Sunday after Cyclone Phailin roared ashore, flooding towns and villages and destroying tens of thousands of thatch homes, but officials said massive evacuation efforts had spared the east coast from widespread loss of life. (AP Photo/Bikas Das)

Even though Phailin weakened slightly prior to landfall, destructive winds well over 160 kph (100 mph) and flooding rain of at least 200 mm (8 inches) pummeled the region. A crippling storm surge of at least 3 meters (10 feet) is expected to have swamped the coast near and just northeast of the point of landfall.

The India Meteorological Department confirmed that Phailin made landfall over Gopalpur on Saturday evening with winds over 200 kph (125 mph). Phailin reached peak intensity Friday night into Saturday when the storm was the equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane or super typhoon,

Storms of this magnitude over the past couple of hundred years have often taken the lives of tens of thousands of people.

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In a statement made by Odisha Revenue and Disaster Minister S.N. Patro on Saturday to the Press Trust of India, 14,514 villages in 12 districts were affected by Phailin, which had impact on a population of 853,620.

Local police in the Indian state of Odisha told CNN-IBN, CNN's sister network in India, that trees downed by Phailin's strong winds killed seven people.

While the western Pacific Ocean has produced 26 named tropical cyclones so far this year, the northern Indian Ocean has only had one named tropical cyclone until Phailin.

Residents of these areas still have the memory of the 1999 Odisha cyclone fresh in their minds. This cyclone was also the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane. The impacts were catastrophic and 15,000 were killed.

In the Indian Ocean, all storms that reach tropical storm strength are referred to as tropical cyclones and they retain that name regardless of how strong they become. Once they reach the intensity of a hurricane or typhoon, they are referred to as "severe tropical cyclones."

Content added to this story by AccuWeather.com Meteorologists Kristina Pydynowski, Dave Samuhel and Alex Sosnowski


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