Speedy Evacuation In India Saves Lives During Cyclone

Cyclone Phailin slammed into the east coast of India over the weekend. It caused widespread destruction of property, but minimal loss of life. Indians are surprised and pleased at how well the government's evacuation effort worked.

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India was hit by a huge cyclone over the weekend. It caused extensive property damage and took a couple dozen lives. Commentator Sandip Roy in Calcutta says that number could have been much higher.

SANDIP ROY, BYLINE: This weekend, Calcutta was lit up for Durga Puja, our five-day festival for the mother goddess Durga. Even the traffic lights played music invoking the goddess.


ROY: But the dark cloud over the festivities was Cyclone Phailin next door in the state of Odisha. The question I heard everywhere was, has it made landfall? When it did on Saturday, the wind hit 130 miles per hour and the waves surge. But the death toll was low, just 23 as of this morning. It's the mercy of the goddess, said a devotee. In 1999, when a super cyclone hit Odisha, over 10,000 died.

This time, Naveen Patnaik, the chief minister of Odisha, could go on television with a thank you message.

NAVEEN PATNAIK: With your cooperation, we have successfully evacuated almost nine lakh people.

ROY: Nine lakhs, that's 900,000 people. This is one of the largest evacuations in India's history. A storm is a natural disaster, but the relief and evacuation can easily become a manmade disaster here. But this time, media, army, civil service, politicians all worked together. We're talking about massive rebuilding, but not mass graves.

Still, as we exhale in relief about Phailin, there comes news about a stampede in a Durga temple in Central India on Sunday. That death toll has crossed 115. Far more dead in a temple stampede than a cyclone. One could read that as a story of how far India has come or how far it still has to go.


GREENE: That's Commentator Sandip Roy in Calcutta, India.


GREENE: This is NPR News.

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