Thousands feared dead in India cyclone
October 30, 1999
From staff and wire reports
BHUBANESHWAR, India (CNN) -- The death toll in a giant cyclone that tore across eastern India could run into thousands, the chief minister of the coastal state of Orissa said on Saturday.
"It could be thousands," Giridhar Gamang said in the state capital Bhubaneshwar. Sea water up to 1.5 meters (5 feet) deep has inundated the coast as far as 15 kilometers (9 miles) inland from the port of Paradwip.
A day after the cyclone roared in from the Bay of Bengal, the area was still inaccessible and all communications were severed.
Rescuers won't be able to reach the hardest-hit areas until Sunday. Air force helicopters and ground troops, loaded with food packets, were waiting for a break in the weather.
In New Delhi, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said 1.5 million people are homeless because of the cyclone. "It is being treated as a national calamity," he said.
Orissa state officials said between 200,000 to 300,000 houses had been damaged.
Officials could only confirm nine deaths in Bhubaneshwar. The full extent of the damage could not be assessed because roads were closed and telephones and electricity were out.
"It is difficult to assess," Vajpayee, recovering from a viral illness, told reporters after an emergency cabinet meeting.
Local reports said two-thirds of the Baleshwar district was submerged. Districts further south could be worse.
"You can't imagine the damage," Orissa state Chief Minister Giridhar Gamag said. "The deaths will be not in tens, but in hundreds."
Nearly 300 army engineers and doctors dispatched by land from West Bengal began rescue and relief work, Press Trust of India quoted officials as saying. On Friday, 2,000 army soldiers were flown to Bhubaneswar, it said.
Authorities in Calcutta, capital of West Bengal, said 200 fishermen had not returned home and it was feared they have drowned. Several boats still were missing on Saturday. The fishermen's union in one community told CNN's Satinder Bindra that 40 boats were missing.
The Paradwip seaport was damaged considerably, Star News TV reported.
The cyclone, packing winds of 250 km/h (155 mph) crossed Paradwip early Friday. By Saturday, it weakened as it moved inland, dumping heavy rain on much of northern India, Bangladesh and parts of Myanmar, said R.R. Kelkar, director- general of the Indian Meteorological Department.
The cyclone was 30 kilometers (20 miles) northeast of Bhubaneswar, early Saturday morning, Kelkar said. Its winds had dropped to about 60-70 km/h (36-42 mph).
The cyclone uprooted trees, knocked down utility poles and flooded large parts of the coast. Tidal waves 4 to 5 meters (13 to 15 feet) high hammered the coast.
No ordinary cyclone
"This is not an ordinary cyclone," said Kelkar. "This is a supercyclone," he told a news conference in New Delhi.
Even the national weather bureau was blinded when its satellite warning system was destroyed.
Only two weeks ago, another cyclone battered Orissa, killing 100 people and injuring 1,000.
More than a dozen cyclones form every year in the Bay of Bengal, but this one had grown since it originated October 25 in the middle of the bay.
"Cyclones that develop near the coast don't have time to intensify," Kelkar said.
India recorded cyclones of similar intensity in 1990, 1989 and in 1977, he said. The cyclone in 1977 killed an estimated 10,000 people in the southeastern state of Andhra Pradesh.
Correspondent Satinder Bindra, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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