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UK offers help to cyclone victims
Prime Minister David Cameron today said the UK would do what it could to help ease the "shocking" devastation caused in India by Cyclone Phailin.
Half a million people were forced to flee as the massive storm roared ashore, destroying tens of thousands of thatch homes, but early indications were that the death toll was relatively low, thanks in part to the mass evacuations.
Mr Cameron tweeted: "The devastation caused by Cyclone #Phailin is shocking. My thoughts and prayers are with those affected. The UK will do what it can to help"
The storm - the strongest to hit India in more than a decade - reached land early on Saturday night and caused large-scale power and communications failures and shut down road and rail links.
Seawater pushed inland, swamping villages where many people survive as subsistence farmers in mud and thatch huts.
Officials said they knew of only seven deaths, most of them people caused by falling branches or collapsing buildings in the rains ahead of the cyclone.
The final death toll is expected to climb, but initial indications are that the government's evacuation of more than 600,000 people saved many lives. A cyclone of similar strength 14 years ago killed 10,000 people.
"Damage to property is extensive," said Amitabh Thakur, the top police officer in the Orissa district worst-hit by the cyclone, "but few lives have been lost."
After crossing the coast, the storm weakened considerably.
In the Orissa state capital of Bhubaneshwar, advertising hoardings and traffic lights were toppled across the city and trees were uprooted, but early reports indicated that it escaped major damage.
More than half a million people were evacuated from their homes in Orissa state, and 100,000 in neighboring Andhra Pradesh.
Officials in both states had stockpiled emergency food supplies and set up shelters. The Indian military put some of its forces on alert, with trucks, transport planes and helicopters at the ready for relief operations.
Save the Children said it was working with the Indian government and partners to assess the needs of children.
Spokesman Devendra Tak, in Puri, said: "There are no reports of casualties so far in the area, which is a good indicator although it is still early, so it's difficult to know the full extent of the damage."
Save the Children has emergency hygiene and food kits for families in most need.
Mr Tak continued: "The hotel I stayed in was one of the tallest buildings in the area, so I could see far around. From here in Puri, the damage does not look as bad as we thought it could be: telephone posts have been pulled up from the ground, and trees uprooted, but buildings remain - for the most part - intact.
"Looking out to the ocean, it's clear the water is still quite rough. On the ground, people are starting to come out, there are children on the streets. The wind is still quite strong although the rains have let up.
"The wind speed is very high, so we anticipate that there may be delays in being able to reach the most vulnerable families with aid. This also means it could take some time before the full extent of the damage is known, but our teams are working around the clock to coordinate a rapid response and meet the needs of those affected."
A spokeswoman for Oxfam said the next few hours remained crucial for tens of thousands of Indians stuck in the middle of one of the country's largest natural disasters.
"The major challenge is to clear debris and to quickly restore communications. Oxfam India's staff will assess the situation as soon as possible. Oxfam India has contingency stock on standby for deployment to address vital water and sanitation needs and emergency shelter needs for over 30,000 people during the initial stage of the crisis."
Zubin Zaman, humanitarian programme manager of Oxfam India, said: "Roads are blocked by fallen trees, communication and power lines are down. Damage to buildings is widespread so is the impact on the crops of the region. There are reports of damage to fishing boats and nets of fishing communities in Puri and Ganjam.
" People have started returning to their villages from the shelter places. One of the immediate requirements for these communities is to restore their houses. Water and sanitation remains a major concern for the people living in the low lying areas as most of the drinking water sources have been contaminated because of heavy rains and storm surge."
International Development Secretary Justine Greening tweeted: "We are closely monitoring cyclone #Phailin and ready to assist as required. Our thoughts are with everyone in eastern India at this time."
A spokeswoman for the Department for International Development said: "International Development Minister Alan Duncan is due to arrive in India tomorrow morning. He is on a planned visit to review the UK's transitioning development relationship with India announced in November 2012. He will take a close interest in what support can be provided following the cyclone."
ActionAid said the cyclone had caused huge damage, with three million trees uprooted and hundreds of thousands of homes damaged.
Ghasiram Panda, programme manager for ActionAid India, said: "Our partners in the worst affected parts are trying to send in as much information but the communication is slow and patchy as telephone and electricity lines are down and their phones and laptops are running on low battery. Our assessment teams are also waiting for the weather and roads to clear up.
"We are yet to access the rural areas, so a clearer picture of the true extent of damage will emerge only in a day or two. But from the early reports we've received from our partners on the ground it appears that damage to crops, nets, boats, kuccha (non-cemented) houses and other small infrastructure appears extensive. Over three million trees have been uprooted, electricity and communication lines have been damaged."
Sandeep Chachra, executive director for ActionAid India, said: "We're relieved that the cyclone did not turn out to be as bad as earlier expected. The loss of life has been contained this time with early information and speedy action from the government evacuating nearly 900,000 people."
Children's charity Plan International said families would need help to rebuild their lives after fleeing the devastation of the cyclone.
H ead of disaster response, Dr Unni Krishnan, said: "C lose to one million people are living in temporary safe centres - health and sanitation requirements must be a priority."
He praised the work of government agencies in evacuating thousands of families.
"This attention to detail should remain when shifting to the relief phase because post-disaster scenarios can be a breeding ground for disease outbreaks," said Dr Krishnan.
"Children must be the priority. For a lot of them, this will have been the first time they've seen a cyclone and it will have had a massive impact on them."