Powerful cyclone lashes Indian coastline
Oct 12, 2013 / 8:12 am
A massive, powerful cyclone was hammering India's eastern coastline with heavy rains and destructive winds Saturday, as hundreds of thousands of people living in the region moved inland and took shelter, hoping to ride out the dangerous storm.
Roads were all but empty as high waves lashed the coastline of Orissa state, which will bear the brunt of Cyclone Phailin. By midafternoon, wind gusts were so strong that they could blow over grown men. Along the coast, seawater was pushing inland, swamping villages where many people survive as subsistence farmers in mud and thatch huts.
As the cyclone swept across the Bay of Bengal toward the Indian coast, satellite images showed its spinning tails covering an area larger than France. Images appeared to show the storm making landfall early Saturday night.
In Behrampur, a town about 10 kilometres (7 miles) inland from where the eye of the storm was expected to hit, the sky blackened quickly around the time of landfall, with heavy winds and rains pelting the empty streets.
Estimates of the storm's power had dropped slightly, with the U.S. Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii showing maximum sustained winds of about 240 kilometres per hour (150 miles per hour), with gusts up to 296 kph (184 mph).
The storm, though, remained exceedingly strong and dangerous. By Friday evening, some 420,000 people had been moved to higher ground or shelters in Orissa, and 100,000 more in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, said Indian Home Secretary Anil Goswami.
"A storm this large can't peter out that fast," said Ryan Maue, a meteorologist at Weather Bell, a private U.S. weather firm. "There's nothing to stop it at this point."
L.S. Rathore, the head of the Indian Meteorological Department, predicted a storm surge of 3-3.5 metres (10-11.5 feet), but Maue said that even in the best-case scenario there would be a surge of 7-9 metres (20-30 feet).
A storm surge — the giant wall of water that that a cyclone blasts ashore — is the big killer in such storms.
Phailin already has been large and powerful for nearly 36 hours, he said, and those winds have built up a tremendous amount of surge.
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