Indian authorities are expressing relief at what appears to be a relatively low rate of causalities after “Super Cyclone” Phailin made landfall in the states of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh on Saturday night. An estimated 800,000 people evacuated to shelters set up in temples, schools and government buildings to avoid the path of the 140mph cyclone, which was expected to bring an 11 foot storm surge and ten inches of rain to a region where in 1999, 10,000 people died as a result of Cyclone Orissa.

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Current reports suggest that 23 people have died as a result of Cyclone Phailin—a figure that is certainly tragic, but is thankfully nowhere near the catastrophic scale of 1999’s Cyclone Orissa, which held winds of 155mph at landfall.

Improved disaster preparedness and early warning systems in the region undoubtedly helped to save many lives, as over 800,000 people formed the largest evacuation in India’s history. At times government officials reportedly had to use force to persuade people in low-lying areas to leave their homes, as many residents feared looting if they were to evacuate. But of the low rate of casualties, the suggests caution:

“… the true scope of natural disasters in India is often not known for days, given its large population and fairly weak central government. And powerful cyclones in the Bay of Bengal have a history of being particularly deadly because the geography funnels the storms into some of the most densely populated and poorest regions in the world. About 12 million people were in the storm’s path, according to Indian officials.”

Infrastructure across the states of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh has been badly hit, with roads and railways flooded, and trees, power lines and traffic signals down. Some areas are still waiting to receive aid; reports that in a coastal village in Ganjam District, food and water has begun to run short. In lower-lying, densely populated areas many mud and bamboo homes have been destroyed, and it will not be clear for several days just now large a reconstruction effort will need to be undertaken.

Via New York Times