More Than 500,000 People Flee As Cyclone Phailin Hits India
Cyclone Phailin is bearing down on India's east coast in the Bay of Bengal, where more than 500,000 people have evacuated vulnerable areas along the coast. Phailin is expected to bring winds of more than 130 mph when the eye of the storm hits around 6 p.m. local time. And they could be far stronger.
The storm surge might measure as much as 10 feet; seawater could reach nearly 2,000 feet inland in the states of Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, according to official predictions.
Earlier Saturday, the U.S. Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii reports that Phailin's maximum sustained winds reached 150 mph, with gusts at 180 mph. If the storm were to make landfall packing such forceful winds, it would be the equivalent of a category 4 or 5 hurricane. Most forecasts predict Phailin will lose power before it hits the coast.
The large storm has already brought strong winds and rain to the India's coastal plains, which are prone to frequent flooding even without a cyclone's presence. People have been preparing for the worst, securing their belongings and gathering food and other supplies.
The AP reports from the scene:
"The skies were dark — almost black — at midday in parts of Orissa state, which will bear the brunt of the cyclone, and by mid-afternoon the winds 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."
The predictions are especially dire given that many houses and other structures in the area are built using mud and thatch. As the BBC reminds us, "A deadly super-cyclone in 1999 killed more than 10,000 people in Orissa."
Phailin is being described as the most powerful cyclone to threaten India since that storm 14 years ago.