India breathed a sigh of relief yesterday (Sunday) as its worst cyclone in more than a decade caused widespread damage but moved inland without claiming the high human toll many had feared.
Cyclone Phailin hit Orissa's eastern coastal towns at speeds of more than 125 miles per hour, similar in strength to the 1999 storm that killed more than 10,000 in the state.
But according to officials, seven died in the extreme weather before it hit land, and only eight deaths have been reported in the aftermath.
The cyclone's intensity was described as "still strong", but Sharat Sahu of the Indian meteorological department said it had "weakened considerably" after its landfall in Orissa.
Makeshift homes made of straw, bamboo and tin were destroyed and thousands of trees and telegraph poles were uprooted, but as Phailin's wind speed flagged to 12 miles per hour as it moved inland, Indian politicians praised the disaster management teams that organised the largest evacuation in the country's history.
An estimated million people were moved from their homes, many into temporary shelters. India's home minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, said some had to be taken by force.
"Many people refused to move, had to be convinced, and at times the police had to forcefully move them to safe places," he said.
The success of the operation was attributed to the disaster management authority and the Hindu goddess Durga, the mother deity.
Naveen Patnaik, Orissa's chief minister, said widespread cooperation with India's "biggest evacuation operation" had saved many lives.
"Our top priority was to save lives and I think we've been successful. Now rehabilitation is a big challenge as properties to the tune of several crores [tens of millions of rupees] have been lost," he said.
As Phailin moved north towards Bihar, meteorological officials predicted heavy rains and issued a flood warning in the state, but pronounced Orissa and Andhra Pradesh as safe zones.