Cyclone Phailin — which is half the size of India — threatening nation with 315 km/h winds

Tens of thousands fled their homes in coastal areas of eastern India and moved to shelters on Friday, bracing for the fiercest cyclone to threaten the country since a devastating storm killed 10,000 people 14 years ago.

Large waves were already pounding beaches in the state of Andhra Pradesh over a day before Cyclone Phailin was due to hit. Schools were evacuated as villagers were sent to the north of the state and in neighbouring Odisha, while panic buying drove up food prices.

Satellite images showed Phailin some 500 km off the coast in the Bay of Bengal and likely to make landfall on Saturday evening, with widespread flooding expected from surges.

The images showed the storm covering an area roughly half the size of India. Some forecasters likened its size and intensity to that of hurricane Katrina, which devastated the U.S. Gulf coast and New Orleans in 2005. (Photo: NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images)
Cyclone Phailin: India in one of its largest evacuations, 12 million people at risk

ICHAPURAM/BHUBANESWAR: Rain and wind lashed India’s east coast on Saturday, forcing about 450,000 people to flee to shelters as one of the country’s largest cyclones closed in, threatening to cut a swathe of devastation through farmland and fishing hamlets.

Filling most of the Bay of Bengal, Cyclone Phailin was about 90 km (124 miles) off the coast by late afternoon and was expected to strike the coast by nightfall with winds of between 210 kmph (130 mph) and 220 kmph (137 mph).

The storm was expected to affect 12 million people, most of them in the densely populated states of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, weather and disaster management officials said.

Even before landfall, coconut trees in villages along the coast were bent and broken in the gusting wind. Electrical poles were brought down and roads were littered with debris.

In the first reported deaths, two people were killed by falling trees while a third when the walls of her mud house collapsed.

Terrified children clung to their mothers as they sought shelter. Most towns along the coast were deserted but there were still some people trying to flee.

Some people took refuge in temples, others crammed into three-wheel auto-rickshaws and headed inland.

“This is one of the largest evacuations undertaken in India,” said Shashidhar Reddy, vice chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority, who estimated that more than 440,000 people had fled from their homes.

The size of the storm made extensive damage to property more likely, he told reporters in New Delhi. “Our priority is to minimise loss of life.”

Phailin is expected to bring a 3.4-metre (11-foot) surge in sea levels when it hits the coast between 1230 GMT and 1430 GMT.

Extensive damage

The weather department warned of extensive damage to mud houses, major disruption of power and communication lines, and the flooding of rail tracks and roads. Flying debris is another threat.

“In a storm of this magnitude there is the potential for widespread damage to crops and livestock in the low-lying coastal areas and houses completely wiped away,” said Kunal Shah, the head of the aid group World Vision’s emergency response team in India.

“While we are praying this storm loses intensity, we’re also preparing.”

London-based Tropical Storm Risk classed the storm in Category 5 - the strongest such rating. The US navy’s weather service said wind at sea was gusting at 314kmph.

Many of the people along the coast are subsistence fishermen and farmers, who live in mud-and-brick or thatched huts.

In 1999, a typhoon battered the same region, killing 10,000 people.

India’s disaster preparations have improved significantly since then and aid workers praised precautions for Phailin such as early warnings, stocking of rations in shelters and evacuations.

“A lot has been learnt since 1999 and my guess is that while there could be extensive damage to property and crops, the death toll will be much less,” said G. Padmanabhan, emergency analyst at the U.N. Development Programme.

But despite all the warnings, some people refused to leave their homes.

“I have a small child, so I thought, how will I leave?” asked Achamma, 25, as she clutched on to her boy in Donkuru, a fishing village in Andhra Pradesh, as waves crashed on to a nearby beach.

Police said a rescue had been launched for 18 fishermen stranded at sea off Paradip, a major port in Odisha, after their trawler ran out of fuel.

Paradip halted cargo operations on Friday. All vessels were ordered to leave the port, which handles coal, crude oil and iron ore. An oil tanker holding about 2 million barrels of oil, worth $220 million, was also moved, an oil company source said.

However, the storm was not expected to hit India’s largest gas field, the D6 natural gas block in the Cauvery Basin further down the east coast, field operator Reliance Industries said.


Mass evacuation saves Indian lives as cyclone leaves trail of destruction

(Reuters) - A mass evacuation saved thousands of people from India’s fiercest cyclone in 14 years, but aid workers warned a million would need help after their homes and livelihoods were destroyed.
Cyclone Phailin was expected to dissipate within 36 hours, losing momentum on Sunday as it headed inland after making landfall from the Bay of Bengal, bringing winds of more than 200 kph (125 mph) that ripped apart homes and tore down trees.
Authorities in the eastern state of Odisha said the death toll stood at 15 people, all killed as the storm slammed in from the ocean. Most died under falling trees and one was crushed when the walls of her mud hut fell in.
The low number of casualties stands in contrast to the 10,000 killed by Odisha’s last big cyclone in 1999.
The building of hundreds of shelters since, warnings which started five days before the storm and mass evacuations - often by force - minimized loss of life, aid officials said.
Almost a million people in Odisha (formerly Orissa) state and adjacent Andhra Pradesh spent the night in shelters, some after wading though surging rivers to higher ground. Others sought safety in schools or temples.
“The loss of life has been contained this time with early information and speedy action of government,” said Sandeep Chachra, executive director of ActionAid India.
Indian media commentators were effusive in praise for the evacuation operation and for accurate forecasting by India’s Met office. Before the storm, some foreign forecasters had warned that India was underestimating its strength.
Authorities canceled the holidays of civil servants during the popular Hindu Dussehra festival, deployed disaster response teams with heavy equipment as well as helicopters and boats for rescue and relief operations.
Over the years, organizations like the Red Cross have mobilized thousands of volunteers across the cyclone-prone region, who are not only trained in basic first aid but also help with evacuations and relief distribution.
Drills are organized so people know what to do when an alert is issued, locking up their homes, leaving cattle in safe places and taking only a few clothes and important documents with them.
“The 1999 cyclone was a real wake-up call for India. It was at a time when economic growth was high and India was seen as developing rapidly. It was embarrassing to be seen to be not taking care of their people, even with all this development,” said Unni Krishnan, head of disaster response for children’s charity Plan International.
Still, Phailin left a trail of destruction along the coast, with widespread flooding of farmland.
Along the highway through Ganjam district in Odisha, the countryside was ravaged. An electricity tower lay in a mangled heap, poles were dislodged, lines tangled and power was out in much of the state. In villages, cranes lifted trees off crushed houses.
The town’s barber shop was tilted to one side. The students’ common room in Berhampur University was a gaping hole, its facade knocked out by the cyclone.
“The wind was so strong I couldn’t get out of here,” Gandhi Behera, a cook in a nearby snack shop said.
Television broadcast images of cars flipped on their sides.
The Indian Red Cross said its initial assessments showed that over 235,000 mud-and-thatch homes owned by poor fishing and farming communities had been destroyed in Ganjam district alone. It expects thousands of people to need help in coming days.
Plan International said it was concerned about the health and sanitation needs of close to a million people and the impact of the storm on people’s livelihoods.
“They cannot stay in the shelters for long as they are overcrowded and sanitation issues will crop up with the spread of diseases such as diarrhea and dysentery, especially amongst young children,” Mangla Mohanty, head of the Indian Red Cross in Odisha, said by phone from Ganjam district.
In some parts of the state, people were making their way through destroyed farmland toward their broken homes. Dozens crammed onto mini-trucks and others trudged with sacks of belongings. Mothers carried babies in their arms.
“There are no farms left. Everything has disappeared into the water,” said S. Dillirao, a paddy farmer, as he stood on his inundated land.
Seawater had swept into his fields. “There’s no way a single crop will grow here now,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Nita Bhalla and Sujoy Dhar; writing by Sanjeev Miglani; editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Andrew Roche)

World Wrap: October 14, 2013

Indian officials halt search for stampede victims after weekend of disaster, Iranian leader says nuclear talks in Geneva could be productive, hopefully, and migrants are rounded up in Moscow after a violent protest targeted them this weekend. Today is Monday, October 14, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner.

India weathers weekend storm, but questions remain on pilgrims’ stampede

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A woman cries next to the body of a victim killed in a stampede near Ratangarh temple in Datia district in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, October 13, 2013.  REUTERS/Stringer

Stampede, cyclone plague India. Indian officials counted at least 115 pilgrims dead in a stampede that broke out among 150,000 pilgrims gathered at India’s Ratangarh temple in the central state of Madhya Pradesh on Sunday before announcing the end of their search:

Devotees thronging towards the temple across a long, concrete bridge panicked when some railings broke, triggering the stampede, Dilip Arya, a deputy inspector general of police, told Reuters. Many victims were crushed by the crowd while others drowned when they fell or jumped into the fast-flowing Sindh river, swollen by heavy rain. “The death toll has increased to 115 and the rescue operation is over,” Arya said. Most of the dead were women and children. Many pilgrims were injured and in hospital, Arya said. Rescuers had combed the river in the hunt for victims.

Sunday’s incident marks the second deadly stampede at the holy site in seven years. In February, 36 Hindu pilgrims were killed in a charge at the world’s largest religious festival. Some victimsblamed police for fuelling the panic by using sticks in an effort to control the crowd. Indian officials were praised for their handling of another disaster that hit India over the weekend:

Cyclone Phailin, India’s fiercest storm in 14 years, smashed into the coastline of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha states over the weekend, flooded swathes of farmland and ripped part tens of thousands of mud-and-thatch homes – but surprisingly, only 15 people have been reported dead. Early warnings which started five days before the storm’s arrival, the pre-positioning of food rations and packaged drinking water in shelters, and the orderly – and sometimes forceful – evacuation of close to one million people saved many lives, said aid workers.

A 1999 cyclone which left more than one million homeless served as a wake-up call for authorities. Reuters reported that roughly 76 percent of India’s coastline is vulnerable to cyclones and tsunamis, 59 percent of the country to earthquakes, and 68 percent to droughts. Authorities still fall short in emergency preparedness, however, as demonstrated by the catastrophe caused by unprecedented rainfall in Uttarakhand in June, which has left 6,000 missing and presumed dead.

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif ® are seated during a meeting of the Foreign Ministers representing the permanent five member countries of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly at the UN Headquarters in New York, September 26, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Cautious optimism on nuclear talks. Iranian Foreign Minister and chief negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif said he is hopeful that global negotiations over Iran’s disputed nuclear program – slated to begin in Geneva on Tuesday – will lead to a means of solving the standoff, adding that the process will be complicated:

“Tomorrow is the start of a difficult and relatively time-consuming way forward. I am hopeful that by Wednesday we can reach agreement on a road map to find a path towards resolution,” Zarif said in a message posted on his Facebook account late on Sunday. “But even with the goodwill of the other side, to reach agreement on details and start implementation will likely require another meeting at ministerial level.”… Zarif’s deputy on Sunday rebuffed the West’s demand that Iran send sensitive nuclear material abroad but signaled flexibility on other aspects of its atomic activities, including the degree of uranium enrichment, that worry global powers.

The nuclear conference is the first since Rouhani’s election in June, and onlookers hope that the president’s apparent openness to dialogue over the program will make these talks more fruitful than previous efforts. Western leaders contend that Iran’s uranium enrichment program is designed to develop nuclear arms capability for the nation, an outcome Western leaders would find unacceptable. Iranian leaders say their program is focused solely on producing energy and medical advances.

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Russian police detain migrant workers during a raid at a vegetable warehouse complex in the Biryulyovo district of Moscow, October 14, 2013. REUTERS/Ivan Stolpnikov

Moscow migrants detained. Russian police rounded up roughly 1,200 migrants a day after violent protests erupted over the death of a Russian man who was allegedly killed by a migrant from the largely Muslim Caucasus region:

The detainees were taken to police stations and police will seek to determine whether they were involved in any crimes, he said. Televised footage showed detainees standing against walls or lined up in front of camouflage-clad police. By rounding up migrants, authorities seemed to be trying to appease residents who had rallied in the Biryulyovo district to demand police find the killer of Yegor Shcherbakov, 25, and take more action to prevent crimes by migrants… On Sunday, a mob in the southern neighborhood smashed shop and vending stalls, fought with police and stormed the vegetable market in the biggest outbreak of anti-migrant violence in Moscow in three years.

Police arrested at least 380 people involved in the riots in an attempt to contain violence. The outbreak highlights tension between Moscow residents and migrants from North Caucasus and the ex-soviet states of the Caucasus and Central Asia, who have played a key role in Russia’s economic transformation since Russian President Vladimir Putin took office in 2000.

Nota Bene: Three Americans have been awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in economics for their work on asset price forecasting.


African leaders lose - The Mo Ibrahim prize for good governance in Africa is awarded to nobody for the fourth time in five years. (BBC)

Home-grown - Russia’s Side by Side LGBT festival wins appeal against its ‘foreign agent’ classification. (The Guardian)

Professional smoker - A Chinese tobacco appraiser has been smoking up to 30 cigarettes a day over a 21-year career. (Quartz)

Criminal campaign - Indian politicians wear jail time as a badge of honor. (New York Times)

Journey to Mount Arafat - Muslim pilgrims start Hajj in Saudi Arabia. (Associated Press)

Check out more from World Wrap at Reuters dot com.

Prayers please

Bloody hell its still raining like shit here. If it continues like this, whatever half-baked plans for an outing I have are already down the drain and also the whole place will flood. One of my fellow performers in June’s concert, his parents are in Orissa, unable to leave because of the cyclone. My prayers they get back home safe.
Over 80 people have been killed in a stampede at a Hindu temple in Madhya Pradesh state, police say

Other police sources said that some 20,000 people were on the bridge over the River Sindh when the stampede broke out.

Up to 400,000 devotees were already inside or around the temple in Datia district, which is around 350 kilometres north of the state capital Bhopal.

NDTV, an Indian television network, cited sources at the scene as saying the situation was exacerbated by police charging at the crowds with heavy wooden sticks known as lathis.

However, Arya insisted “there was no baton-charge”.

Hindus are celebrating the end of the Navaratri festival, dedicated to the worship of the Hindu god Durga, which draws millions of worshippers to temples, especially in northern India.

India has a long history of deadly stampedes at religious festivals, with at 36 people trampled to death back in February as pilgrims headed home from the Kumbh Mela religious festival on the banks of the river Ganges.

Some 102 Hindu devotees were killed in a stampede in January 2011 in the state of Kerala while 224 pilgrims died in September 2008 as thousands of worshippers rushed to reach a 15th-century hill-top temple in Jodhpur.


An immense, powerful cyclone that lashed the Indian coast, forcing 500,000 people to evacuate and causing widespread damage, weakened Sunday after making landfall. An estimated 12million people were in the path of Cyclone Phailin. The death toll has been relatively low but the cyclone left a trail of destruction in its wake, destroying people’s homes, livelihoods and villages. See more pictures HERE:

What You Need to Know About The Massive Cyclone Heading Towards India

By Saturday afternoon, a massive cyclone currently traveling across the Bay of Bengal is expected to hit the coast of India. The government has evacuated more than a quarter million people to prepare for the storm, named Cyclone Phailin (pronounced: phie-lin), which it expects to cause massive power outages, floods, and damage to homes in the region. Here are some facts on the storm, and what’s ahead:

How bad is this storm?

The India Meteorological Department describes Phailin as a “very severe” storm, and the National Center for Atmospheric research rates it as a Category 5. It’s expected to hit the coast with winds up to 137 miles per hour, 9.8 or more inches of rain, and storm surges up to 11.5 feet. For reference, the storm surge in the Battery in New York City during Superstorm Sandy peaked at 9.2 feet, and the surge in nearby Kings Point, NY was 12.7 feet according tothe Weather Channel. The India Meteorological Department predicts “extensive damage” to houses made from hay and mud, which are common in the region, as well as flooding, power outages, traffic disruption, and “the flooding of escape routes” in areas affected by the cyclone.

Writing at Quartz, meteorologist Eric Holthaus thinks that Cyclone Phailin could be more damaging than current estimates (emphasis added):

At one point (2 am Friday, India time), one satellite-based measure of Phailin’s strength estimated the storm’s central pressure at 910.2 millibars, with sustained winds of 175 mph (280 kph). If those numbers were verified by official forecast agencies, they would place Phailin on par with 2005′s Hurricane Katrina, and break the record for the most intense cyclone in Indian Ocean recorded history.

To get a sense of the size of the storm, this satellite image from the University of Wisconsin shows the cyclone, which appears to be about half the size of India.

Where is it heading?

Cyclone Phailin will primarily hit two states on the eastern coast of India, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, and is expected to cause heavy rainfalls in a third, West Bengal. Low-lying areas near the coast, which is dotted with small fishing towns, are expected to be damaged by the storm surge. Reuters reports that the Indian government has made an effort to evacuate people, though not all of them are willing to leave:

Some 260,000 people were moved to safer ground and more were expected to be evacuated by the end of the day, authorities in the two states said. Not everybody was willing to leave their homes and belongings, and some villagers on the palm-fringed Andhra Pradesh coast said they had not been told to evacuate.

“Of course I’m scared, but where will I move with my family?” asked Kuramayya, 38, a fisherman from the village of Bandharuvanipeta, close to where the hurricane is expected to make to landfall, while 3.5-metre (12-foot waves) crashed behind him. “We can’t leave our boats behind.”

Indian officials say few deaths in massive cyclone

By Kay Johnson, AP, Oct 13, 2013

BEHRAMPUR, India (AP)–Mass evacuations spared India the widespread deaths many had feared from a powerful cyclone that roared ashore over the weekend, officials said Sunday, as the country sorted through the wreckage of flooded towns, tangled power lines and tens of thousands of destroyed thatch homes.

Cyclone Phailin, the strongest storm to hit India in more than a decade, destroyed hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of crops, but more than 20 hours after it made landfall in Orissa state on the country’s east coast, authorities said they knew of only 17 fatalities.

The final death toll is expected to climb further 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, 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.

On Sunday, 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.

“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.

Phailin weakened significantly after making landfall as a Category 4 storm, with sustained winds of up to 210 kilometers per hour (131 miles per hour), 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 kph (138 mph) and gusts up to 268 kph (167 mph) four hours before the storm hit land.

Midday on Sunday, some areas reported little more than breezy drizzles, with winds in some areas blowing at 161 kph (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.

Indian officials spoke dismissively of American forecasters who earlier had warned of a record-breaking cyclone that would drive a massive wall of water–perhaps as large as 9 meters high (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.”

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 a series of 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.

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

Heavy rains and surging seawater destroyed more than 500,000 hectares (1.23 million acres) of crops worth an estimated 24 billion rupees ($395 million), according to Orissa’s disaster minister, S.N. Patro.

Cyclone Phailin: the evacuation of 800,000 Indians saved the lives of thousands of people

NEW DELHI, 14 OCT – 800, 000 people evacuated in a few hours. The initiative promoted by the Indian authorities to limit the death toll from the cyclone Phailin was a success: according to the provisional report there were only 23 fatalities, 14 years ago in the transition region of a tornado like force caused the death of more than 10 thousand people