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Cyclone Strikes India’s Densely Populated East Coast

From Associated Press

The second deadly cyclone in two weeks hit India’s densely populated east coast Friday, knocking down thousands of homes, trees, electric poles and telephone lines with its 155-mph winds.

Two people were killed when a wall collapsed in Orissa state. At least 30 people were injured in neighboring Midnapore district in West Bengal state when their homes collapsed, Press Trust of India news agency said.

Hundreds more were feared dead or injured, but little was known about many areas because most telephone lines were cut.

At least 50,000 people were evacuated from coastal villages, Home Affairs Minister Lal Krishna Advani told Parliament in New Delhi.

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Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee placed the military on alert to provide help when the storm subsides. Vajpayee’s Cabinet was to meet this weekend to assess the damage.

Air force helicopters planned to drop food to the affected areas. Relief workers on the ground planned to distribute food, vaccine and polyethylene sheets to the victims.

Called a super cyclone because of its intensity, the storm turned the sky inky black and drove 15-foot waves ashore. Such powerful storms are rare in the Bay of Bengal, said L.K. Chand, of the meteorological office in Bhubaneswar.

The storm swept across an area inhabited by nearly 10 million people. “You cannot imagine the devastation. The deaths will be not in tens, but in hundreds,” United News of India news agency quoted Girdhar Gamang, the top elected official of Orissa state, as saying.

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The cyclone ripped into the port town of Paradwip and later hit Bhubaneswar, the state capital 55 miles from the coast, hammering the city with winds of 110 mph.

About 20,000 people were evacuated from coastal villages, said D.N. Padhi, the relief commissioner of the state of Orissa.

“Nearly 150,000 huts have been devastated and almost every tree uprooted,” said Padhi.

Authorities crammed villagers into trucks during the night and evacuated them hours before the cyclone hit land. Residents were evacuated to schools and public buildings to ride out the storm.

The state was still recovering from an Oct. 17 storm that killed more than 100 people and injured more than 1,000.

The government canceled trains traveling to and from the area Friday, fearing the wind would blow carriages off their tracks.

At least 200 fishermen who went to sea before the storm were listed as missing. Another 4,000 fishermen were caught in heavy seas but were in radio contact, United News of India reported.

On the other side of the Bay of Bengal, authorities in Bangladesh scaled down their storm warning, but an evacuation alert remained in effect. Fishermen were urged to remain close to port.

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