Thousands flee as cyclone barrels towards Bangladesh

Thousands flee as cyclone barrels towards Bangladesh

PATUAKHALI, Bangladesh - Tens of thousands of Bangladeshis left their coastal villages on May 26 for concrete storm shelters further inland as the low-lying nation prepared for the expected landfall of an intense cyclone, officials said.

Cyclone Remal is set to hit the country and parts of neighbouring India on Sunday evening, with Bangladesh’s weather department predicting crashing waves and howling gales with gusts of up to 130kmh.

Cyclones have killed hundreds of thousands of people in Bangladesh in recent decades, but the number of superstorms hitting its low-lying, densely populated coast have increased sharply of late – 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 (4m) above normal astronomical tide, which can be dangerous,” senior weather official Muhammad Abul Kalam Mallik told AFP.

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 vulnerable areas.

“Our plan is to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people from unsafe and vulnerable homes to the cyclone shelters,” the government’s disaster management secretary Kamrul Hasan told AFP.

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

He said some 4,000 cyclone shelters have been readied along the country’s lengthy coast on the Bay of Bengal.

The state-run Bangladesh Meteorological Department said Cyclone Remal would make landfall on May 26 between 6pm and midnight (8pm and 2am, Singapore time).

In addition to the villagers and fishermen, many of the multi-storey centres have space to shelter their cattle, buffaloes and goats, as well as their pets.

“Some 78,000 volunteers have been mobilised to alert coastal people and evacuate the vulnerable people,” Mr Hasan said.

Mr Helal Mahmud Sharif, the chief government administrator of Khulna province, told AFP some 20,000 people had been evacuated to shelters in the most vulnerable coastal regions.

Another 15,000 people and about 400 domesticated animals have been evacuated in the coastal Patuakhali and Bhola districts.

On the low-lying Bhashan Char island, which is home to 36,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, 57 cyclone centres have been readied, deputy refugee commissioner Mohammad Rafiqul Haque told AFP.

The country’s three seaports and the airport in the second-largest city Chittagong were closed, officials said. AFP

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