A massive, powerful cyclone was hammering India's eastern coastline with heavy rains and destructive winds today, as hundreds of thousands of people living in the region moved inland and took shelter, hoping to ride out the dangerous storm. Roads were all but empty as high waves lashed the coastline of Orissa state, which will bear the brunt of Cyclone Phailin. By midafternoon, wind gusts were so strong that they could blow over grown men. Along the coast, seawater was pushing 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, satellite images showed its spinning tails covering an area larger than France. Estimates of the storm's power had dropped slightly, with the US Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii showing maximum sustained winds of about 150 miles per hour, with gusts up to 184 mph. The storm, though, remained exceedingly strong and dangerous. By yesterday evening, some 420,000 people had been moved to higher ground or shelters in Orissa, and 100,000 more in neighboring Andhra Pradesh. (Read more India stories.)