Brooke Seipel | Contributing Writer

One of the worst storms in a decade hit India this Saturday in the form of Cyclone Phailin. Storm winds have reached up to 140 mph and destroyed popular beach areas including Gopalpur and Odisha.

Hurricanes are referred to as “cyclones” in the Indian Ocean, and the wind speeds of this cyclone are currently equivalent to a Category 4. The storm was originally at a Category 5 but slowed down significantly before it hit land Saturday evening.

Over half a million people have been relocated to storm shelters in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh in Southern India. There are over 250 separate emergency shelters set up in sturdy buildings including schools and government offices.

This is the largest evacuation India has experienced in over 20 years. The National Disaster Management Authority stated that their biggest goal is to reduce the loss of life from the crisis and prevent what happened in 1999 when a cyclone claimed 10,000 lives.

“We are fighting against nature. We are better prepared this time; we learned a lot from 1999,” said Minister Surya Narayan Patra.

Debris, fallen trees and telephone poles have killed at least seven people as of now, though there are currently conflicting reports about deaths. As rescue operations begin, the death toll will likely rise. Damage to property is significant as heavy winds and rain uproot trees, flood buildings, destroy roofing, and shatter windows.

Military units and National Disaster Response workers have been deployed in coastal areas to provide relief supplies and medical aid. The International humanitarian organization World Vision has also been working to help the community prepare for the cyclone’s arrival as it progresses onward.

“In a storm of this magnitude there is the potential for widespread damage to crops and livestock in the low lying coastal areas and houses completely wiped away,” said Kunal Shah, the head of World Vision’s emergency response in India. “So while we are praying this storm loses intensity, we’re also preparing.”

The cyclone started at the Bay of Bengal and is moving northwest through northeastern India. Visakhapatnam, Brahmapur, and Puri are large cities expected to be thrashed by the storm this weekend.

Pictures and videos of the event depict locals carrying their belongings and young children as they navigate through debris filled waters; men, women, and children, are seen crammed head-to-toe, back-to-back sleeping in emergency shelters; and palm trees are shown bending precariously close to a breaking point in the winds.

Though the Indian Met department has not classified Phailin as a super-storm, forecasters have warned it could be similar to Hurricane Katrina, which killed about 1,800 people and caused over $100 billion in damage.