cbc.ca (© Copyright: (C) Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, http://www.cbc.ca/aboutcbc/discover/termsofuse.html#Rss)
Updated: Mon, 14 Oct 2013 04:25:30 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

Cyclone Phailin toll hits 23 as 17 sailors rescued



An Indian woman rests near her damaged house after returning to the cyclone hit Podampeta 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 powerful 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/Biswaranjan Rout)

An Indian woman rests near her damaged house after returning to the cyclone hit Podampeta 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 powerful 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/Biswaranjan Rout) The Associated Press

The Indian coast guard rescued 17 sailors on Monday whose cargo ship sank during Cyclone Phailin, officials said, as the death toll in the storm rose to 23 people along the eastern coastline.

A mass government evacuation of nearly 1 million people spared India the widespread deaths many had feared from the powerful weekend cyclone, which destroyed hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of crops and tens of thousands of homes.

The lifeboat carrying the crew of the MV Bingo was spotted by a coast guard aircraft Sunday off the coast of Orissa state, which took the brunt of the cyclone. They were brought to Calcutta on Monday.

- Interactive: inside the eye of a cyclone

"All of them are safe now and they have been sent to a hospital for checkup," coast guard Commandant Rajendra Nath told the Press Trust of India news agency.

Officials in Orissa and neighbouring Anhra Pradesh state said the death toll had risen to 23 people, PTI reported.

Cyclone Phailin, the strongest tropical storm to hit India in more than a decade, weakened significantly after making landfall early Saturday night, with sustained winds of up to 210 km/h, according to Indian meteorologists.

The government — which had faced immense public criticism after its slow response to deadly floods and mudslides in June that killed more than 6,000 people in the northern state of Uttarakhand — moved aggressively to deal with Phailin.In part that was because of memories of a 1999 Orissa cyclone, which 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 neighbouring Andhra Pradesh.

For the people living along the coast, many of them subsistence farmers living in mud-and-thatch huts, the economic toll will be immense.

Heavy rains and surging seawater destroyed more than 500,000 hectares of crops worth an estimated $395 million US, according to Orissa's disaster minister, S.N. Patro.

The Indian Ocean is a cyclone hot spot, and 27 of the 35 deadliest storms in history — including the 1999 cyclone — have come through the Bay of Bengal and landed in either India or Bangladesh.

Phailin weakened significantly after making landfall as a Category 4 storm, with sustained winds of up to 210 km/h, 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 222 km/h and gusts up to 268 km/h four hours before the storm hit land.

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.

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 Odisha and more than 100,000 in neighboring Andhra Pradesh.

With some of the world's warmest waters, the Indian Ocean is a cyclone hot spot, and 27 of the 35 deadliest known storms in history — including the 1999 cyclone — have come through the Bay of Bengal and landed in either India or Bangladesh.

more video