After 13 hours of terror, Cyclone Phailin, the strongest storm to hit India in 14 years, was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane, leaving in its wake 17 dead and 9 million people affected.
“One of our believers died today,” Gospel for Asia pastor S.E. Quamar said, explaining how the 30-year-old widow had been trying to save her household items when a wave threw her against a rock. “She fell down on the stone and died on the spot. She has one daughter who is 15 years old.”
Despite the heartache for 17 families, the low death toll is a marked triumph for government officials who put on one of the largest evacuation efforts in India’s history.
Voluntarily or by force, nearly 1 million people were evacuated in the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha in hopes of avoiding a repeat of Odisha’s 1999 cyclone, which killed 10,000 people.
“It is a huge, huge relief,” Odisha’s chief minister Naveen Patnaik told CNN-IBN. “Damage has been minimal.”
Still, officials acknowledge that rehabilitation will be a significant challenge. Electricity has been turned off in 12 Odishan districts and may take a week to turn on again, and communications are severely limited.
With many roads either collapsed or blocked by trees, officials are still waiting to see the extent of the damage along the coast. Some estimate 236,000 homes are damaged.
In Odisha, Gospel for Asia correspondent Ibhya Lall said more than 4,000 believers were affected by Cyclone Phailin.
“More than 500 believers’ mud houses were damaged, and they lost their household things and animals,” Lall said. “They do not know what their future will be. Most of our believers are depending upon agriculture. They have lost so many acres of agricultural crops.”
Intense monsoon rains this summer had brought an increase in the two states’ regular rice crop, but now more than 1 million acres of agricultural fields have been destroyed. As two of India’s greatest producers of rice, the damage will likely affect the rest of the nation’s food supply.
Meanwhile, threats of flooding brought by heavy rains loom over Nepal and the Indian states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, east Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Sikkim. In one Jharkhand district, officials evacuated 1,000 villagers on Sunday.
With the government’s support, GFA Compassion Services teams plan to provide relief in as many affected areas as possible.