NEW DELHI, India - Cyclone Phailin, the most powerful cyclone to hit India in 14 years, left a trail of destruction in its wake, knocking down homes, overturning cars, uprooting trees, and leaving at least 17 dead after one of the largest evacuation efforts in the country's recent history.
The storm, which made landfall Saturday in the town of Gopalpur has affected nearly 9 million people and destroyed crops worth about $400 million, the news agency Press Trust of India reported.
According to the first round of assessments by government authorities, the storm damaged nearly 250,000 houses in Ganjam, one of the worst-affected districts. That figure is expected to rise over the next few days as rescue workers fan out across the region. There are reports of widespread damage in the towns that were in the eye of the storm.
"The storm has finally passed but it looks like it will take a long time for things to get back to normal," said Prashant Kumar Rawat, a resident of Paradip, the port town on the coast of Odisha that is among the hardest hit by the storm. "All roads are blocked, all we can see are uprooted trees, debris, glass shards, even tops of cars."
"Power has also not yet been restored," added Rawat, who spent the night at a storm shelter in Paradip.
Soldiers and rescue workers have been deployed and are using helicopters and boats to get to villages completely cut off by the cyclone.
Seventeen storm-related deaths have been confirmed, but seven of those were reported before the storm made landfall, the government said. Most of the deaths were attributed to uprooted trees or walls collapsing on residents. About 900,000 were evacuated to shelters inland before the storm.
For Indian authorities, the low number of casualties is a relief - the last major cyclone in the region in 1999 claimed nearly 15,000 lives.
"We have been successful in minimizing the loss of life," Odisha's Chief Minister Naveen Patnail told reporters. "Now (rebuilding) is a very big challenge for us as property worth (tens of millions) of rupees has been destroyed."
Meanwhile, officials from the Indian Meteorological Department announced Sunday morning that heavy rains will continue to lash the area over the next 48 hours, raising concerns that rescue operations could be hampered.
"Some people from the shelter have started to leave to go back to their villages but many are afraid because of the rain and heavy flooding," Rawat said. "Government officials made announcements on loudspeakers this morning telling us not to panic as the worst of the storm was over."
In the state capital, Bhubaneshwar, things are slowly returning to normal, locals said.
"I went out earlier this morning, there were people on the streets, although there is tons of debris, and trees everywhere," said Prabhat Mohapatra, a resident of Bhubaneshwar. "There were some trucks and motorcyclists as well on the streets. Power has been restored in some areas, and there is no sense of panic here."