BEHRAMPUR, India (AP) — The Indian coast guard rescued 17 sailors on Monday whose cargo ship sank during Cyclone Phailin, officials said, as the death toll in the storm rose to 23 people along the eastern coastline.
A mass government evacuation of nearly 1 million people spared India the widespread deaths many had feared from the powerful weekend cyclone, which destroyed hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of crops and tens of thousands of homes.
The lifeboat carrying the crew of the MV Bingo was spotted by a coast guard aircraft Sunday off the coast of Orissa state, which took the brunt of the cyclone. They 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.
Officials in Orissa and neighboring Anhra Pradesh state, meanwhile, said the death toll had risen to 23 people, PTI reported.
Cyclone Phailin, the strongest tropical storm to hit India in more than a decade, weakened significantly after making landfall early Saturday night, with sustained winds of up to 210 kilometers per hour (131 miles per hour), according to Indian meteorologists.
The government — which had faced immense public criticism after its slow response to deadly floods and mudslides in June that killed more than 6,000 people in the northern state of Uttarakhand — moved aggressively to deal with Phailin.
In part that was because of memories of a 1999 Orissa cyclone, which devastated the coastline and left at least 10,000 people dead.
Nearly 1 million people were evacuated from the coast ahead of Phailin, including more than 870,000 in Orissa and more than 100,000 in neighboring Andhra Pradesh.
For the people living along the coast, many of them subsistence farmers living in mud-and-thatch huts, the economic toll will be immense.
Heavy rains and surging seawater destroyed more than 500,000 hectares (1.23 million acres) of crops worth an estimated $395 million, according to Orissa's disaster minister, S.N. Patro.
The Indian Ocean is a cyclone hot spot, and 27 of the 35 deadliest storms in history — including the 1999 cyclone — have come through the Bay of Bengal and landed in either India or Bangladesh.