More than 115,000 flee as cyclone approaches Bangladesh

PATUAKHALI   -   More than 115,000 Bangladeshis left their coastal villages on Sunday for concrete storm shelters further inland as the low-lying nation prepared for crashing waves when a cyclone makes landfall, officials said. Cyclone Remal is set to hit the southern coast and parts of neighbouring India on Sunday evening, with Bangladesh’s weather department predicting howling gales and gusts of up to 130 kilometres (81 miles) per hour. 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.

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

Most of Bangladesh’s coastal areas are a metre or two above sea level and high storm surges can devastate villages.

Authorities have raised the danger signal to its highest level, warning fishermen against going to the sea and triggering an evacuation order for those in at-risk areas.

“We are terrified”, said 35-year-old fisherman Yusuf Fakir at Kuakata, a town on the very southern tip of Bangladesh -- right in the predicted route of the storm.

He has sent his wife and children to a relative’s home inland while he stays to look after their belongings.

“Our daily life is disrupted,” he said, recalling the destruction of past cyclones.

As people fled, police said that a heavily laden ferry carrying more than 50 passengers -- double its capacity -- was swamped by rough waters and sank near Mongla, a port in the expected path of the storm.

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

The government’s disaster management secretary Kamrul Hasan told AFP that orders had been given to ensure people moved from “unsafe and vulnerable homes to the cyclone shelters.”

The authorities have mobilised tens of thousands of volunteers to alert people to the danger.

He said around 4,000 cyclone shelters have been readied along the country’s lengthy coast on the Bay of Bengal, with the cyclone expected to hit a 220-kilometre stretch from India’s Sagar Island to Khepupara in Bangladesh.

The state-run Bangladesh Meteorological Department said Cyclone Remal would make landfall on Sunday by midnight (1800 GMT).

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