Bangla evacuates thousands as storm nears

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Dhaka, Nov 15: Thousands of families have been evacuated from their homes in over a dozen coastal districts of Bangladesh as a severe cyclone heads in from the Bay of Bengal, officials said today.

The storm, described as category 4 by the weather tracker Tropical Storm Risk, would likely make landfall in Bangladesh, from around 2 p.m. (1330 IST) packing winds more than 210 km (130 miles) per hour and may also hit parts of eastern India, meteorology officials said.

The Bangladesh Meteorology Department raised danger signal number 10, the highest, at Mongla, Bangladesh's second main sea port, and number 9 at Chittagong and Cox's Bazar, the main port and prime tourist resort respectively.

It said the storm was centred little more than 500 km from the Bangladesh coasts early today, and was likely to intensify further.

It may also trigger tidal surge up to 10 feet (over three metres) in some areas, the met officials said.

Authorities have deployed more than 40,000 volunteers, police, troops, coastguards and health workers on the shoreline, where nearly 10 million people live in an area with storm shelters for around only half a million.

''We are taking people out of the high risk zones by using government transport and providing them food and shelter,'' said a government official in Chittagong.

Chittagong port suspended operations yesterday and moved ships to safer areas, port officials said. The Chittagong airport has also suspended flights.

Fishing trawlers have been asked to return to harbours immediately, fishing community leaders in Cox's Bazar said.

Met officials said the storm was expected to hit Vishakapatnam on the eastern Indian coast as well as Sittewe in Myanmar.

''This is a very serious cyclone,'' said B P Yadav, director of the India Meteorological Department, adding that he expected the storm to cross the coast of Bangladesh and the neighbouring Indian state of West Bengal by tomorrow morning, near Sagar Island.

Volunteers of the Cyclone Preparedness Centre were moving through villages, alerting people on loudspeakers about the impending danger.

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.


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