BEHRAMPUR, India — Mass evacuations spared India the widespread deaths many had feared from a powerful weekend cyclone, officials said, as people picked up belongings and started repairing flooded towns, tangled power lines and tens of thousands of destroyed thatch homes.
Cyclone Phailin, the strongest tropical storm to hit India in more than a decade, destroyed hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of crops, but a day after it made landfall in Orissa state on the country’s east coast, authorities said they knew of only 17 fatalities.
The final toll is expected to climb as officials reach areas of the cyclone-battered coast that remain isolated by downed communication links and blocked roads, but the evacuation of nearly 1 million people appeared to have saved many lives.
“Damage to property is extensive,” said Amitabh Thakur, the top police officer in the Orissa district worst-hit by the cyclone. “But few lives have been lost,” he said yesterday, crediting the mass evacuations.
On the highway to the seaside city of Gopalpur, where the storm made landfall early Saturday night, two tractor-trailers with shattered windshields were lying on their sides, while a hotel nearby was in tatters, with tables and chairs strewn about.
“We were terrified,” A-1 Hotel owner Mihar Ranjan said of himself and 14 other people who had been huddling inside when the wind ripped the tin roof off the building.
Yesterday, Gopalpur’s power lines sagged nearly to the ground and a strong surf churned off the coast. But some shops were opened, doing brisk business selling bottled drinks and snacks, and locals expressed relief that the damage wasn’t worse.
A mermaid statue remained standing on Gopalpur’s boardwalk, where most decorative street lamps still stood along with most of the city’s buildings.
“Everyone feels very lucky,” said Prabhati Das, a 40-year-old woman who came from the town of Behrampur, about 10 kilometers (7 miles) inland, to see the aftermath at the coast.