Hundreds of thousands evacuated as cyclone slams into Bangladesh



Cyclone Sitrang slammed into densely-populated, low-lying Bangladesh on Monday night, killing at least five people as authorities fearing heavy rain and storm surge rushed to move hundreds of thousands out of the system’s path.

Sitrang, packing winds of 80 kilometres (50 miles) per hour, made landfall along the Chittagong-Barisal coast around 9pm (1500 GMT), government meteorologist Abul Kalam Mallick said.

The storm was moving swiftly over the country’s southern region and its outer bands were already impacting Dhaka, hundreds of kilometers away from the Bay of Bengal, with trees uprooted and roads flooded in the capital.

Mallick said some coastal towns had received nearly 294 milimetres (12 inches) of rainfall. At least five people had been killed in the districts of Bar-guna, Narail, Sirajganj and the island district of Bhola, disaster ministry control room spokesman Nikhil Sarker said.

“The casualties may rise as we are hearing from our officials from some other districts as well,” he said.

Cyclones — the equivalent of hurricanes in the North Atlantic or typhoons in the Northwest Pacific — are a regular and deadly menace on the coast of the northern Indian Ocean where tens of millions of people live.

But scientists say climate change is likely making them more intense and frequent, and Bangladesh is already rated by the United Nations as one of the countries most affected by extreme weather events since the turn of the century.

Most worrying for authorities was the predicted storm surge of up to three metres (10 feet) above normal tide levels, which could inundate areas home to millions of people.

About 33,000 Rohingya refugees from Myan-mar, controversially relocated to a storm-prone island in the Bay of Bengal, were advised to remain indoors.

The newly-formed silt island of Bhashan Char, where Bangladesh has been relocating Rohingya refugees to alleviate overcrowding in their refugee camps, was expected to be hit by heavy rains and strong winds.

“The Bhashan Char shelters are protected by a 19-feet-high embankment.

Still, we asked people to stay at home,” a senior security officer said.

The government had hoped to evacuate about 2.5 million other people ahead of the storm, the country’s disaster management minister Enamur Rahman told reporters earlier in the day.

“The evacuation has already begun from the morning,” the minister said, adding that more than 7,000 shelters have been readied in an effort to keep casualties to a minimum.

At least 250,000 people had already been evacuated from coastal districts to cyclone shelters by the afternoon, two regional administrators said.

Tens of thousands of volunteers were mobilised for the effort, said a spokesman for the local chapter of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society.—AFP


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