5 lakh seek cover as Phailin batters Orissa coastline

CycloneVillagers at a cyclone shelter in Ganjam district of Orissa on Saturday. Officials said an estimated two lakh houses in the district may have been destroyed. Partha Paul

Cyclone Phailin tore into the east coast late Saturday and more than half a million people, huddled in shelters inland, spent a sleepless night as winds, racing well over 200 km per hour, battered what were their homes until hours ago.

The first light of day Sunday will begin to reveal the extent of the havoc that Phailin wreaked. Officials said an estimated two lakh houses in Ganjam may have been damaged.

The cyclone, which made landfall "very close to Gopalpur town" around 9 pm, is expected to remain a "very severe cyclonic storm" until the early hours of Sunday.

Heavy rain inundated large swathes of the coastal districts, especially Ganjam where fierce winds blew away roofs — the residence of the district collector was minus one — and damaged buildings, including the circuit house.

The administrative block of the Berhampur University collapsed and some students were feared trapped in the debris.

Five people were killed in heavy rain ahead of the cyclone. Police said three died after uprooted trees fell on them.

Earlier in the day, thousands fled inland for cover as waves as high as 15 feet pounded the coastline.

In Ganjam alone, over 1.5 lakh people were moved to safety. "We have evacuated 1.5 lakh people to cyclone shelters from the blocks likely to be affected by Phailin. Another 20,000 are likely to join those already at the shelters. We have achieved maximum evacuation," Ganjam district collector Krishan Kumar said.

Power supply to the entire district was switched off and diesel gensets, inverters were being used as back-up. All hotels were emptied and people were asked to head to the shelters.

It was not easy evacuating the area given the reluctance of people to shift to cyclone shelters. In Golabandha, the administration had to warn people that force would be used if they did not shift quickly. Many people had returned, hoping to ride out the storm. "We have come to check our house," fisherman T Seshaih said.

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