Powerful Cyclone Kills 242 in Bangladesh, Leaves Much of South Cut Off; Aid Dispatched

Friday, November 16th 2007, 5:54 am
By: News On 6

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) -- A cyclone killed 242 people and left much of southern Bangladesh cut off from the rest of the country before heading inland and losing strength Friday, officials said.

Tropical Cyclone Sidr roared across the country's southwestern coast late Thursday with driving rain and high waves, spawning a 4-foot water surge that left low-lying areas and some offshore islands under water, according to Nahid Sultana, an official at a cyclone control room in the capital, Dhaka.

But by early Friday, the cyclone had weakened into a tropical storm and was moving across the country to the northeast, the department said, adding that while skies remained overcast, wind speed had fallen to 37 mph.

The cyclone flattened thousands of flimsy straw and mud huts, uprooted trees, electricity and telephone poles, and destroyed crops and fish farms in 15 coastal districts, local government officials and witnesses 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.

Much of the region remained without electricity and phone lines Friday, while blocked roads, rails and rivers left many areas cut off.

Power and communications in Dhaka were also down. Strong winds uprooted trees, snapped power and telephone 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.

On Friday, government and volunteer agencies dispatched relief and medical teams to the affected areas, where they had already sent dry foods, medicines, tents and blankets, 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.