A cargo ship carrying iron ore, the MV Bingo, sank Saturday as the cyclone barreled through the Bay of Bengal. Its crew of 17 Chinese and one Indonesian were being rescued last night after their lifeboat was found about 185 kilometers (115 miles) off the Indian coast, Coast Guard Commandant Sharad Matri said.
Phailin weakened significantly after making landfall as a Category 4 storm, with sustained winds of up to 131 mph, according to Indian meteorologists. Those numbers were slightly lower than the last advisory issued by the U.S. Navy’s Hawaii-based Joint Typhoon Warning Center, which reported maximum sustained winds of about 138 mph and gusts up to 167 mph four hours before the storm hit land.
Midday yesterday, some areas reported little more than breezy drizzles, with winds in some areas blowing at 100 mph. Meteorologists warned that Orissa and other states in the storm’s path would face heavy rains, strong winds and rough seas for several more hours.
“Its intensity is still strong, but after crossing the coast it has weakened considerably,” Sharat Sahu, a top official with the Indian Meteorological Department in Orissa, told reporters.
Indian officials dismissed the warnings of American forecasters who earlier had predicted a record-breaking cyclone that would drive a massive wall of water — perhaps as large as 30 feet high — into the coastline.
“They have been issuing warnings, and we have been contradicting them,” said L.S. Rathore, director-general of the Indian Meteorological Department. “That is all that I want to say.”
“As a scientist, we have our own opinion and we stuck to that. We told them that is what is required as a national weather service — to keep people informed with the reality without being influenced by over-warning,” he said at a news conference in New Delhi, the capital.
Predicting how massive storms will develop is difficult in the Bay of Bengal, where there are no tidal gauges, ocean buoys or aircraft flying into storms to measure winds directly. Instead, both U.S. and Indian meteorologists rely on satellite imagery to assess a storm’s strength and path.