Ships called to shore as storm heads for Bangladesh

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DHAKA, Nov 13 (Reuters) Hundreds of ships and fishing boats headed back to port today as a severe storm approached the Bangladeshi coast from the Bay of Bengal.

Meteorologists said the storm, packing winds of around 185 km per hour was some 1,100 km off Bangladesh's Chittagong port and could be heading for shore.

''The storm is likely to intensify further and move in a north or northwesterly direction to hit the Bangladesh coast in a couple of days,'' the Bangladesh Meteorological Department said in a bulletin today.

Wind speeds could increase to 250 km per hour or more before the storm makes landfall, a meteorologist said. British storm tracking system Tropical Storm Risk described it as a Category 4 storm, the same strength as Hurricane Katrina which killed more than 1,700 people in the United States in 2005.

Thousands of coastguards, army, police and volunteers have been deployed along the Bangladeshi coast to move people to safety.

''We are ready to deploy some 40,000 volunteers in all the 11 coastal districts to evacuate people when the storm comes dangerously close to the shores,'' an administrative official said.

Nearly 10 million people live in vulnerable points along the coast, but there are storm shelters for only half a million people, a disaster management official said.

Bangladesh's ports took measures to protect merchant ships.

Fishing vessels were instructed by radio to return to shore.

Storms batter the poor south Asian country every year, killing hundreds of people. A severe storm killed more than half a million people in 1970, while a 1991 storm killed 143,000 people and destroyed thousands of properties.

REUTERS SKB RAI1747

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