The Indian government had faced immense public criticism after its slow response to deadly floods and mudslides in June in the northern state of Uttarakhand, where more than 6,000 people were killed.
But officials took few chances with Phailin, especially given memories of a 1999 Orissa cyclone that devastated the coastline and left at least 10,000 people dead.
Nearly 1 million people were evacuated from the coast ahead of Phailin, including more than 870,000 in Orissa and more than 100,000 in neighboring Andhra Pradesh.
Still, some either missed the evacuation or chose to ride out the storm near the coast, for fear of losing their homes and livestock to possible looting.
Truck driver M.D. Makasad Ali had set out Saturday night from the coast for Behrampur, but was forced by strong winds to pull over and shelter in his cab.
“At around midnight, the wind shook the truck and it fell over,” the 25-year-old said. He managed to crawl out of a broken window and run for cover at a hotel.
Carpenter Pitambar Moharanat, 65, spent the night terrified in his employer’s seaside building in Gopalpur, where for six hours he listened to screaming winds shake the bolted wooden shutters until the winds eased at around 3 a.m.
“I am thanking God for sparing us,” he said.
For days before the storm hit, officials had been stockpiling food and setting up hundreds of shelters. The Indian military put some forces on alert, with trucks, planes and helicopters ready for relief operations.
Electric utility authorities in Orissa switched off the power in 12 districts after scores of electric pylons toppled from the torrential rain and high winds.
The storm wreaked havoc in Behrampur, with the wind shattering windows, blowing down trees and electrical poles, and terrifying residents. But only three people died in the town, a security official said.