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Cyclone Aila claims 62 lives in Bangladesh

By Anisur Rahman in Dhaka
Last updated on: May 26, 2009 19:40 IST
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Nearly 62 people were killed as Cyclone Aila ravaged the southern coastlines of Bangladesh, where tidal surges inundated vast tracts of land and breached coastal embankments, officials said on Tuesday. The full extent of devastation in the storm, which packed wind speed of up to 100 kilometres per hour to slam into the Bangladesh coasts on Monday, was slowly emerging as the authorities were assessing the damage.

Disaster management officials said they had so far confirmed 62 deaths while unofficial reports said the toll could be as high as 90 with the ecovery of more bodies from remote areas. The cyclone left marks of its scourge across the entire stretch of the coastline.

Meanwhile, the Red Crescent Society said some 338,780 people in eight districts were affected by the cyclone while a total of 1,00,000 people were forced to move into makeshift shelters under a massive evacuation campaign by their volunteers and law enforcement agencies.

"The cyclone killed maximum 28 people in (southwestern) Satkhira, while eight deaths were reported from Noakhali, seven in Patuakhali, six in Laxmipur and five in Khulna," state-run news agency BSS reported, quoting the officer-in-charge of the disaster management control room in Dhaka.

Twenty six deaths were reported from Shatkhira's Shyamnagar area, where an embankment collapsed due to wind-driven surges of abnormal heights.

Officials said most of the victims died in house collapses or drowned. They feared the toll could be higher as they were still gathering the casualty reports alongside assessing the extent of infrastructure damages and other losses. Local residents and officials said many of the marooned people were forced to take shelters on rooftops or tree branches while others were trying to float making improvised rafts.

Meteorologists said Bangladesh escaped the main brunt of the storm that hit neighbouring West Bengal, but officials and local sources reported that the killer surges washed away a large number of cattle, standing crops on farmland and fishing farms, including shrimp cultivation grounds that account for the country's major export earnings.

Earlier reports said over 500 people were reported missing, mostly fishermen who were yet to return from the sea. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ordered the army and paramilitary forces to join hands with the local administration and non-government volunteers in rescue operations, as officials said several lakh people were marooned in inundated offshore islands with many finding their refuge on the roofs of their submerged houses or treetops.

Officials said Bangladesh navy and Coastguard ships could not immediately go to the offshore islands from Chittagong due to the turbulent sea but joined the rescue campaign in the morning. The authorities earlier suspended operations of the main southeastern Chittagong and southwestern ports and halted movement of ferry services in riverine routes as the Met office had issued the 'danger signal no 7' in a scale of 10 for the coastline.

A cyclone codenamed 'Bijli' or thunder crossed Bangladesh coast with a weakened force but killed at least six people and injured several dozen others in April. Bangladesh witnessed the worst cyclone in recent decades on November 15, 2007, when the 'Sidr' lashed the southwestern coastlines killing nearly 3,500 people.

In 1970, some half a million people died when a cyclone hit the impoverished country, while an estimated 138,000 people died during a cyclonic surge in 1991.

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Anisur Rahman in Dhaka
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