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India avoids widespread deaths in cyclone

| Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013, 7:51 p.m.

BEHRAMPUR, India — Mass evacuations spared India the widespread deaths many had feared from a powerful cyclone that roared ashore during the weekend, officials said on Sunday as the country sorted through the wreckage of flooded towns, tangled power lines and tens of thousands of destroyed thatch homes.

Cyclone Phailin, the strongest storm to hit India in more than a decade, destroyed hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of crops, but more than 20 hours after it made landfall in Orissa state on the country's east coast, authorities said they knew of 17 fatalities.

The final death toll is expected to climb as officials reach areas of the cyclone-battered coast that remain isolated by downed communication links and blocked roads, but the evacuation of nearly 1 million people appeared to have saved many lives.

On the highway to the seaside city of Gopalpur, where the storm made landfall early Saturday night, two tractor-trailers with shattered windshields were lying on their sides, while a hotel nearby was in tatters, with tables and chairs strewn about.

“We were terrified,” A-1 Hotel owner Mihar Ranjan said of himself and 14 others who had been huddling inside when the wind ripped the tin roof off the building.

Gopalpur's power lines sagged nearly to the ground, and a strong surf churned off the coast. But some shops were opened, doing brisk business selling bottled drinks and snacks.

“Everyone feels very lucky,” said Prabhati Das, a 40-year-old woman who came from the town of Behrampur, about 7 miles inland.

A cargo ship carrying iron ore, the MV Bingo, sank Saturday as the cyclone barreled through the Bay of Bengal, and its crew of 18 went missing for a day, coast guard officials said. They were being rescued on Sunday evening.

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