Thursday, June 20, 2024

Bengal braces for cyclone remal

An intense cyclone struck the low-lying coast of Bangladesh on Sunday, prompting nearly a million people to seek refuge in concrete storm shelters, away from the howling gales and crashing waves.

“The severe Cyclone Remal has started crossing the Bangladesh coast,” said Bangladesh Meteorological Department Director Azizur Rahman, adding that the storm could continue battering the coast until at least early Monday morning.

“We have so far recorded maximum wind speeds of 90 kilometers (56 miles) per hour, but the wind speed may increase further,” he added.

Forecasters predicted gusts of up to 130 kilometers (81 miles) per hour, with heavy rain and winds also affecting neighboring India.

Authorities have raised the danger signal to its highest level.

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

“The cyclone could unleash a storm surge of up to 12 feet (four meters) above the normal astronomical tide, which can be dangerous,” said senior Bangladeshi weather official Muhammad Abul Kalam Mallik.

Most of Bangladesh’s coastal areas are only one or two meters above sea level, making them vulnerable to high storm surges that can devastate villages.

“We are terrified,” said 35-year-old fisherman Yusuf Fakir from Kuakata, a town on the southern tip of Bangladesh in the storm’s predicted path, speaking just before its arrival. While he had sent his wife and children to a relative’s home inland, he stayed behind to guard their belongings.

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, according to government ministers and disaster officials.

“We want to ensure that a single life is not lost,” said Bankim Chandra Hazra, West Bengal Minister.

– Ferry sinks –

As people fled, Bangladeshi police reported that a heavily laden ferry carrying more than 50 passengers—double its capacity—was swamped and sank near Mongla, a port in the storm’s expected path.

“At least 13 people were injured and taken to a hospital,” local police chief Mushfiqur Rahman Tushar told AFP, adding that other boats rescued the passengers.

A young man drowned in rough seas at Kuakata on Sunday afternoon, district government administrator Nur Kutubul Alam told AFP.

Bangladesh’s disaster management secretary Kamrul Hasan stated that people had been ordered to move from “unsafe and vulnerable” homes.

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

Authorities have mobilized tens of thousands of volunteers to alert people to the danger, but local officials noted that many stayed home out of fear that their property would be stolen if they left.

Hasan added that around 4,000 cyclone shelters have been prepared along the country’s extensive coast on the Bay of Bengal.

– Airports close –

In addition to sheltering villagers and fishermen, many multi-storey centers have space to accommodate cattle, buffaloes, goats, and pets.

On the low-lying island of Bhashan Char, home to 36,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, 57 cyclone centers were opened, deputy refugee commissioner Mohammad Rafiqul Haque told AFP.

Officials said the country’s three seaports and the airport in Chittagong, the second-largest city, were closed. Kolkata airport also closed on Sunday, while the Indian navy prepared two ships with aid and medical supplies for “immediate deployment.”

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

In the Great Bhola Cyclone of November 1970, an estimated half a million people died, mostly from drowning in the storm surge. In contrast, Cyclone Mocha, which struck in May last year, became the most powerful storm to hit Bangladesh since Cyclone Sidr in November 2007. Sidr killed more than 3,000 people and caused billions of dollars in damage.

Last October, at least two people were killed and nearly 300,000 fled to storm shelters when Cyclone Hamoon hit the country’s southeastern coast.

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