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Cyclone hits Bangladesh as nearly a million flee inland for shelter

Cyclone hits Bangladesh as nearly a million flee inland for shelter
26 May 2024 20:34

Patuakhali (AFP)

An intense cyclone smashed into the low-lying coast of Bangladesh on Sunday, with nearly a million people fleeing inland for concrete storm shelters away from howling gales and crashing waves.

"The severe Cyclone Remal has started crossing the Bangladesh coast," Bangladesh Meteorological Department Director Azizur Rahman told AFP, adding the raging storm could continue hammering the coast until at least the early hours of Monday morning.

"We have so far recorded maximum wind speeds of 90 kilometres (56 miles) per hour, but the wind speed may pick up more pace."

Forecasters predicted gusts of up to 130 kilometres (81 miles) per hour, with heavy rain and winds also lashing neighbouring India.

Authorities have raised the danger signal to its highest level.

Cyclones have killed hundreds of thousands of people in Bangladesh in recent decades, but the number of superstorms hitting its densely populated coast has increased sharply, from one a year to as many as three, due to the impact of climate change.

At least 800,000 Bangladeshis fled their coastal villages, while more than 50,000 people in India also moved inland from the vast Sundarbans mangrove forest, where the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers meet the sea, government ministers and disaster officials said.

"We want to ensure that a single life is not lost," said Bankim Chandra Hazra, a senior minister in India's West Bengal state.

Bangladesh's disaster management secretary Kamrul Hasan said people had been ordered to move from "unsafe and vulnerable" homes.

"At least 800,000 people have been shifted to cyclone shelters," Hasan said.

The authorities have mobilised tens of thousands of volunteers to alert people to the danger, but local officials said many people stayed home as they feared their property would be stolen if they left.

He said around 4,000 cyclone shelters have been readied along the country's lengthy coast on the Bay of Bengal.

Airports Close


The country's three seaports and the airport in the second-largest city Chittagong were closed, officials said.
India's Kolkata airport closed Sunday, while the Indian navy readied two ships with aid and medical supplies for "immediate deployment".

While scientists say climate change is fuelling more storms, better forecasting and more effective evacuation planning have dramatically reduced the death toll.

In the Great Bhola Cyclone in November 1970, an estimated half a million people died -- mostly drowned by the storm surge.

In May last year, Cyclone Mocha became the most powerful storm to hit Bangladesh since Cyclone Sidr in November 2007.

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