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Deadly Cyclone Phailin destroys $4bn worth of crops across area size of Delaware

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A deadly cyclone which slammed into the coast of India has caused the loss of $4 billion worth of crops across an area the size of Delaware, local media reported Monday.

Cyclone Phailin hit the state of Orissa on Saturday and is the most destructive to affect the subcontinent in 14 years.

But careful contingency plans meant the human cost was far less in 1999 when a cyclone that hit the region in 1999, killing some 10,000 people. 

Despite weakening as it made landfall, Cyclone Phailin has recorded sustained wind speeds of 131 mph. It is currently moving inland and flooding is expected throughout Monday in the states of Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Bihar, NDTV reported.

Veteran Indian broadcaster Venkat Narayan told NBC News that Phailin has affected some 150,000 villages, caused almost one million people to evacuate the region, and killed at least 25.

The affected area was 1,930 square miles in size, he said.

Narayan said this was because more advanced weather-prediction technology had given residents and officials more chance to prepare for the storm.

“India was able to gear up its entire machinery to cope with this challenge without any foreign assistance,” Narayan said.

"Indians feel very relieved and proud that the country could cope with one of the worst cyclones in history with minimum loss of life, even though there has been extensive damage.”

Officials moved aggressively to deal with the cyclone following criticism of their response to deadly floods and mudslides in June. But Narayan added that cost of repairs would be severe.

“Repairing and renovating the destroyed villages and infrastructure could well cost several billion dollars on top of the $4 billion lost in rice crop damage,” he said.

A woman waits to board a boat as she returns to her village after Cyclone Phailin hit Sunapur, in Ganjam district, Sunday.Adnan Abidi / Reuters

On Monday the Indian coast guard said it rescued 17 sailors after their boat sank during the cyclone, Reuters reported.

A coast-guard aircraft spotted a lifeboat carrying the crew of the ship, the MV Bingo, off the coast of Orissa state. The sailors were brought to Calcutta on Monday.

"All of them are safe now and they have been sent to a hospital for check-up," coast guard Commandant Rajendra Nath told the Press Trust of India news agency, according to a Reuters report.

Of the near one million people who evacuated their homes, 870,000 were from Orissa and more than 100,000 came from neighboring Andhra Pradesh.

On Sunday, Kirti Mishra, operations manager at Catholic Relief Services in the state of Odisha, spoke of the damage to infrastructure.

“It looks so devastating, I could see all roads blocked with uprooted tree and response teams clearing the roads,” she said. “Houses made of mud and bamboo are worst hit, slums in the town are mostly affected, their houses have completely collapsed and roofs are blown away.”

Authorities said they had cancelled the holidays of civil servants during the popular Hindu Dussehra festival and deployed disaster response teams with heavy equipment as well as helicopters and boats for rescue and relief operations.

John Shumlansky, country representive for Catholic Relief Services, told NBC News the Indian government deserved praise. He said: "The government did a really good job on this, bringing people together a few days beforehand," he said.

Reuters contributed to this story.

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