New York Times
NEW DELHI - A massive cyclone came ashore along the eastern coast of India about 9 p.m. Saturday, flooding homes throughout the region and leading to the evacuations of more than 800,000 people, one of the largest such evacuations in India's history.
The storm's maximum sustained winds were about 124 mph with gusts reaching 150 mph, according to Indian officials. At least five people were killed in the coastal city of Gopalpur because of heavy rain and high winds before the storm made landfall, officials said. The storm was expected to drop up to 10 inches of rain over the next two days in some areas.
The Indian predictions before the storm made landfall had been less alarming than those from meteorological authorities in the United States. Late Friday, the U.S. Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center said the storm, then barreling across the Bay of Bengal, had maximum sustained winds of 161 mph, with gusts reaching 196 mph - making it similar to a Category 5 hurricane, the most severe.
But once the storm arrived on land, its intensity was more modest, and Indian officials defended their more measured forecast as having been more accurate.
"We are not trying to downplay the intensity of the cyclone," M. Shashidhar Reddy, vice chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority, said at a news conference Saturday. "In fact, U.S. authorities are overplaying it."
On Saturday, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center, in Hawaii, reduced its estimates, saying they showed maximum sustained winds of about 138 mph and gusts of up to 167 mph.
L.S. Rathore, director general of the India Meteorological Department, termed the storm, named Cyclone Phailin, a "very serious cyclonic storm." By today, Reddy said, the storm is likely to be downgraded to a "serious cyclonic storm."
Still, the true scope of natural disasters in India is often not known for days, given its large population and fairly weak central government.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a statement Saturday that he had been briefed on preparations for the storm and had directed that the central government extend all needed assistance to state officials.
The surge accompanying the storm is expected to reach nearly 10 feet, weather officials said, which would cause heavy flooding across Andhra Pradesh and Odisha, another coastal state.
With some of the world's warmest waters, the Indian Ocean is considered a cyclone hot spot, and some of the deadliest storms in recent history have come through the Bay of Bengal, including a 1999 cyclone that killed 10,000 people.