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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

1,000 Die As Huge Cyclone Hits India

HYDERABAD, India -- Shivering in wet clothes, hundreds of thousands of Indians left homeless by a devastating cyclone huddled in schools and offices Saturday as rescuers searched for bodies, brought in relief supplies and sought to prevent a cholera outbreak.


Coast guard ships sighted 50 fishermen's bodies in the Bay of Bengal, off East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh state, said Phanandra Reddy, a relief official. Some of the bodies were picked up by the sailors, he said.


The death toll from Wednesday's cyclone, which destroyed homes, crops and livestock in one of India's most fertile regions, exceeded 1,000, state and relief officials said. About 617 bodies were identified by Saturday evening.


The cyclone hit just as the state was recovering from one that struck three weeks ago, killing 350 people. The area is home to 5 million people.


On Saturday, officials said nearly 1,000 fishermen were reported missing in the dangerous waters of the Bay of Bengal, a rough sea with high waves. Fishermen hunting mostly shark stay out at sea for five to seven days at a stretch. Their primitive boats rarely have radios.


Three naval helicopters dropped bags of rice mixed with spices, drinking water, medicine and clothes to victims for the second straight day.


Telephone workers hitched up emergency links to district headquarters, relief officials said. Relief workers set up 557 relief camps in schools, colleges and office buildings.


Fearing the outbreak of waterborne diseases, authorities sent large quantities of chlorinated drinking water and ordered the emergency purchase of diesel generators to rig up a power supply for water pumps.


"I am at a loss for words to describe the tragedy,'' Chandrababu Naidu, chief executive of Andhra Pradesh state, told reporters after he flew over the disaster area in a relief helicopter.


He ordered a relief payment of 100,000 rupees ($2,777) to relatives of the dead. Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda announced emergency aid of 600 million rupees to the state.


Hundreds of thousands of hectares of rice paddy crop, banana and the state's famous mango groves were destroyed, Reddy said. About 5 million coconut trees were also leveled. An estimated 1 million chickens and at least 5,000 cows and sheep drowned in the floodwaters.


Officials struggled to supply food to an estimated 500,000 stranded people. The state's health department reported its first suspected cholera case, while the local news agency, United News of India, said seven people were hospitalized with cholera symptoms in the worst-hit area, Kakinada, 620 kilometers east of the state capital, Hyderabad.