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Relief work begins in India after Cyclone Phailin batters coast

Emergency teams in India have begun assessing the damage from the country's worst cyclone in 14 years. A massive evacuation operation seems to have kept the death toll down, with around 1 million people taken to safety.

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Phailin leaves trail of destruction

Cyclone Phailin hit the east coast of Indian near the coastal town of Gopalpur in the state of Odisha on Saturday night with winds of around 200 kilometers per hour (125 miles per hour).

The cyclone left a trail of devastation, flooding low-lying areas, felling trees, bringing down power and communication lines and upending vehicles parked on streets. Damage to land and crops is also expected.

As it moved inland, Phailin has since been downgraded from a "very severe cyclone" to a "cyclone" with winds of up to 110 km/h by Sunday morning, the Indian Meteorological Department said.

Heavy rains are predicted until Monday, the department said, and could cause flooding.

Massive evacuation

"As the wind intensity lessens, we will mobilize thousands of personnel to carry out rescues of stranded people and disburse relief material and food," Orissa's top relief official, PK Mohapatra, said.

Mohapatra said only three deaths had so far been confirmed, but that there may be more. Broadcaster CNN-IBN reported the higher toll of seven deaths, caused by trees falling on houses.

All deaths were reported from Orissa.

Weather forecasters said Phailin was the most powerful cyclone to hit India since a "super cyclone" in 1999 killed more than 8,000 people.

This time, however, authorities carried out one of India's biggest rescue efforts, evacuating nearly 1 million people from Odisha and Andhra Pradesh ahead of the storm, Mohapatra said.

Many of them waited out the storm in special shelters that were built after the 1999 disaster.

tj/kms (dpa, AFP)

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