Powerful cyclone kills 242 in Bangladesh

Hundreds of thousands evacuated as Tropical Cyclone Sidr roars across the country's southwestern coast.

Bangladesh cyclone 224.8 (photo credit: AP)
Bangladesh cyclone 224.8
(photo credit: AP)
A cyclone slammed into Bangladesh's coast with 240 kph winds, killing at least 242 people, leveling homes and forcing the evacuation of 650,000 villagers before heading inland and losing power Friday, officials said. Tropical Cyclone Sidr roared across the country's southwestern coast late Thursday with driving rain and high waves. Most of the dead were killed by falling debris, according to Nahid Sultana, an official at a cyclone control room in the capital, Dhaka. Downpours and staggering winds also spawned a water surge 1.2 meters high that swept through low-lying areas and some offshore islands, leaving them under water, she said. The worst hit areas were communities in southern Bangladesh where most of the victims were killed by falling trees or debris from collapsing homes, while some drowned after falling off boats, Sultana said. Relief workers struggled Friday to bring aid to areas devastated by the initial impact of storm, even though Sidr had weakened into a tropical storm and was moving across the country to the northeast, with wind speed falling to 60 kilometers per hour. The cyclone flattened thousands of flimsy huts, uprooted trees, electricity and telephone poles, and destroyed crops and fish farms in 15 coastal districts, local government officials and witnesses said. "There has been lot of damage to houses made of mud and bamboo and about 60 to 80 percent of the trees have been uprooted," said Vince Edwards, the Bangladesh director of the US-based Christian aid group World Vision. Edwards said debris from the storm has blocked roads and rivers, making it difficult to reach all the areas that had been hit. "The immediate need is for shelter," said Edwards, adding that his organization plans to distribute rice, oil, sugar, salt, candles, blankets, mattresses and clothing to 100,000 people. Government teams also fanned out to deliver food and medicine, said Hasanul Amin of the cyclone preparedness program, supported by the government and the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society. However, Amin said his teams were having trouble assessing the full scale of the disaster because telephone lines and electricity were down in many areas. Power and communications in the capital, Dhaka, were also down. Strong winds uprooted trees, snapped power and telecommunication lines and sent billboards flying through the air, injuring several people, said Ashraful Zaman, another official at the cyclone control room. At least 650,000 coastal villagers moved Thursday to cyclone shelters where they were given emergency rations, Ali Imam Majumder, a senior government official, told reporters in Dhaka. Authorities dispatched dry foods, medicines, tents and blankets to the affected areas, he said. Operations remained suspended at the country's two main seaports - Chittagong and Mongla, while ferry services and flights were yet to resume in the coastal region, authorities said. The storm spared India's eastern coast, where the weather was calm Friday. India's Meteorological Department had forecast heavy rain and flooding in West Bengal and Orissa states. Bangladesh, a low-lying delta nation, is prone to seasonal cyclones and floods that cause huge losses of life and property. The coastal area borders eastern India and is famous for the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans, a world heritage site that is home to rare Royal Bengal Tigers.