Cyclone Phailin kills 14, leaves trail of destruction in India

Updated 12:54 PM EDT, Sun October 13, 2013

Story highlights

NEW: Save the Children: It could take time before the extent of damage is known

Massive evacuation efforts helped limit the number of casualties

At least 14 people were killed, authorities say

To avoid electrocution, authorities cut the electricity in affected districts

(CNN) —  

Hours after it snapped power lines, overturned cars and ripped away bamboo homes, the most powerful cyclone to hit India in years weakened Sunday, but not before it left at least 14 dead.

Morning light revealed damage from Tropical Cyclone Phailin after it pounded the eastern coast, the strongest storm in India in 14 years.

Debris littered wet streets. Buildings had gaping holes where roofs and windows had been.

In Odisha state, where the cyclone landed, at least 13 people were killed after trees fell and walls collapsed when the storm hit, Police Chief Prakash Mishra said. Another death was confirmed in Andhra Pradesh state, India’s disaster management authority said.

Many had feared the death toll would be higher. Massive evacuation efforts helped limit the number of casualties, officials said.

“It is a huge, huge relief,” Naveen Patnaik, Odisha’s chief minister, told CNN sister network CNN-IBN. “Damage has been minimal.”

But in the hardest hit areas, the storm’s impact was clear, with flooded highways, fallen trees and downed power lines.

As a precautionary measure, authorities cut the electricity in the affected districts. It could take up to a week to restore power, authorities said.

Like a fierce hurricane

Hurricanes are known as cyclones in the Indian Ocean.

At 140 mph wind speed, Phailin made landfall as the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane. The strongest hurricane is a Category 5, which comes with winds greater than 155 mph.

By Sunday, some 13 hours later, it was the equivalent of a Category 1 hurricane with winds of about 80 mph.

Where have all the hurricanes gone?

’Zero-casualty approach’

India evacuated nearly a million people before the storm to avoid a repeat of what happened in 1999, when a cyclone killed 10,000 people.

“We have taken a zero-casualty approach,” said Kamal Lochan Mishra, Odisha state’s disaster manager. “If people do not move, force will be used to evacuate them.”

Phailin has brought nearly 8 inches of rain to Odisha’s capital of Bhubaneswar, about 30 miles from the coast. The city’s average rainfall for October is 6.5 inches.