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Saturday, November 17, 2007
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Over 700 killed as cyclone wreaks havoc

Death toll may cross 1,000; all communications, utility services snapped; thousands missing; houses, crops, trees destroyed; lakhs homeless

(Top) Grim-faced victims of Sidr look around the trail of destruction at Kanainagar of Mongla, Bagerhat, yesterday. (Photo: AFP); (bottom) FROM LEFT… Residents of a house mangled in storm at Kandipara of Maoa in Munshiganj removing debris yesterday. Hurricane Sidr lashed the region Thursday night. An elephant engaged in clearing a Barisal road pushes a damaged bus. A merchant vessel lashed by Sidr sinks in the Passur river in Mongla. The photo was taken yesterday. (Photo: Star/AP/Focus Bangla)

Bangladesh dated with a nightmare as cyclone Sidr ripped through the southwestern coast late Thursday, killing over 700 people and demolishing houses, crops, vegetables and trees alike along its trail of devastation over an area of thousands of square kilometers.

Packing winds over 220km an hour, the fierce tropical storm roared across the shoreline after it hit landfall at the Khulna-Barisal coast at 7:30pm Thursday, cutting off all communications and utility services across the country.

“I've never seen anything like this in my 47 years life,” Khalilur Rahman, a government official in Patuakhali, told The Daily Star over telephone last night. “It was a panic beyond description. People found no way but to keep on screaming as long as the cyclone ran rampage here.”

One of the fiercest cyclones in the history of the land, the Sidr rode

on wailing winds, driving rains and tidal surges to wreak havoc for over 14 hours before moving to Asam and Tripura through the Sylhet border, turning into a well-marked low yesterday.

“Eyes of the cyclone crossed the Boleshar river near Sundarbans and then razed across southern districts before approaching towards Dhaka through Faridpur,” said a Met official. “Gradually weakening, the cyclone then headed towards the Sylhet border at 10 in the morning today (Friday) leaving its marks on Comilla and Mymensingh.”

Despite having carried out a commendable evacuation effort, the government last night found itself reeling from shock as the number of deaths and extent of damage continued to increase with every passing hour.

In a rather awkward manner, the food and disaster management ministry told the press in the afternoon that about 233 people were killed but left out death tolls in two most-affected districts--- Borguna and Jhalakathi. However, the same briefing stated that Red Crescent found 118 dead so far in Barguna alone.

But within hours at 12 midnight, an official at the food and disaster management ministry's control room raised the death figure to 700, with maximum 177 killed in Patuakhali. However, quoting unofficial sources, Our Correspondent in Patuakhali, reported death of 490 people.

But finds of newsmen and different private sources till filing of this report early morning today revealed that the death toll is destined to climb up to 1,000 as rescuers and volunteers could not yet reach most of the worst-hit areas.

Meanwhile, no information on causalities could be gathered from numerous remote islands (chars), residents of which mostly turned a deaf ear to government's evacuation alert.

“Tidal waves swept away many people from Dublar Char in Bagerhat”, Red Crescent worker Abul Kashem Dulal told our correspondent in Barisal. Of them, bodies of 17 people could be recovered.

The government could provide shelter for around 15 lakh people in 2168 shelter houses, leaving around 33 lakh people in the coastal areas in vulnerable situation.

Casualties apart, the Patuakhali district also suffered most in the farm sector. “The crop loss should be no less than Tk 497 crore in the seven upazilas,” he said, quoting a rough estimate of a deputy director of agriculture extension department in Patuakhali.

The Patuakhali town went under knee-deep waters as tidal surges 6-7 feet higher than normal ones sped through the locality. At least seven other southern districtsBarguna, Jhalakathi, Pirojpur, Bhola, Madaripur, Barisal and Bagerhat suffered nearly the same fate of Patuakhali.

However, the actual extent of destruction in Bagerhat could not be known till filing of this report as a very few could reach areas like Sharankhola near the worst-hit Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest.

“Hundreds of trees lying on the roads and fields give a picture of massive damage,” said Raphael Palma, communications manager of World Vision Bangladesh, a non-government organisation.

Palma, who yesterday visited Mongla, said the locals are saying they lived through the cyclone of 1988 but it was no match to this cyclone. “The roaring wind was not as devastating as this one.”

The casualties could be much higher if not the local administration warned people about the imminent disaster, he observed.

As per the government count, 44 people died in Bagerhat. But unofficial sources put the number at 133, of which 90 were killed in Sharankhola upazila alone.

The volunteers and rescuers painted an even grimmer picture of the shocking event, which also left thousands injured. Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed too rushed to some southern districts in an effort to buck up the spirit of cyclone-victims.

But it will take weeks to assess the actual death toll, financial loss and days to reach relief to people who are forced to live overnight under the open sky, rescuers and volunteers said, almost in identical words.

People in lakhs are staying under the open sky with hardly any foods in their possession, thousand remained missing, embankments broke down in many areas, scores of livestock killed, and unknown number of persons was swept away by tidal surges.

However, the devastation could have been much higher if the cyclone, originally predicted to be heading for the shores of Orissa near Paradip, made landfall during the high tide hours at around 3:00am on Friday.

“Had the high tide and cyclone taken place at the same time the damage would have tripled,” said an expert.

According to the midnight update of the government, 177 were killed in Patuakhali, 134 in Pirojpur, 133 in Bagerhat, 78 in Barisal, 35 in Barguna, 32 in Jhlakathi, 25 in Gopalganj, 20 in Bhola, 15 in Shariatpur,12 in Khulna, 10 in Faridpur, four each in Chandpur and Dhaka, three in Sathkhira, one each in Laxmipur, Chittagong, and Jessore.

However, the government briefing in the afternoon stated 19 people were killed in Madaripur, two in Narayanganj, and one each in Noakhali and Chandpur.

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