BEHRAMPUR, India — An immense, powerful cyclone packing destructive winds hammered eastern India Sunday, forcing more than 500,000 people to evacuate and sending seawater surging inland. Reports of deaths and the extent of damage from Cyclone Phailin won't become clear until after daybreak.
The storm, which made landfall early Saturday night near the town of Golpalpur in Orissa state, was expected to cause large-scale power and communications outages and shut down road and rail links, officials said. It's also expected to cause extensive damage to crops.
Officials in both Orissa and Andhra Pradesh have been stockpiling emergency food supplies and setting up shelters. The Indian military has put some of its forces on alert, and has trucks, transport planes and helicopters at the ready for relief operations.
Roads were all but empty Saturday as high waves pounded the coastline of Orissa state. Seawater pushed inland, swamping villages where many people survive as subsistence farmers in mud and thatch huts.
As the cyclone swept across the Bay of Bengal toward the Indian coast Saturday, satellite images showed its spinning tails covering an area larger than France.
With some of the world's warmest waters, the Indian Ocean is considered a cyclone hot spot, and some of the deadliest storms in recent history have come through the Bay of Bengal, including a 1999 cyclone that also hit Orissa and killed 10,000 people.
U.S. forecasters had repeatedly warned that Phailin would be immense.
"If it's not a record, it's really, really close," University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy told The Associated Press. "You really don't get storms stronger than this anywhere in the world ever."
To compare it to killer U.S. storms, McNoldy said Phailin is nearly the size of Hurricane Katrina, which killed 1,200 people in 2005 and caused devastating flooding in New Orleans, but also has the wind power of 1992's Hurricane Andrew, which packed 265 kph (165 mph) winds at landfall in Miami.