At least 14 dead after powerful cyclone whips Bangladesh, India

A strong cyclone lashed northeastern India and Bangladesh on Sunday, killing several people in both countries after more than two million moved to shelters across Bangladesh’s vast coastal region, officials and news reports said.

Cyclone Bulbul left at least seven people dead in India’s West Bengal state, where the storm first made landfall at around midnight Saturday, the Press Trust of India news agency reported. The storm then made its way to neighbouring Bangladesh, where seven people were killed, according to the United News of Bangladesh news agency.

Enamur Rahman, Bangladesh’s junior disaster management minister, said about 5,000 homes across the country’s coastal region were damaged and many trees were uprooted by the cyclone. The Agriculture Ministry said more than 200,000 hectares of crop land were damaged in Bangladesh.

Packing winds of up to 120 km/h and gusts of up to 130 km/h, Bulbul weakened when it started crossing Bangladesh’s southwestern coastal region, dumping incessant rain across the country.

Bangladesh’s weather office said the cyclone first slammed ashore at Sagar Island in the southern part of India’s West Bengal state before moving to Bangladesh. Its path included the southwestern Khulna region, which has the world’s largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans, which straddles the Bangladesh-India border.

The weather office said the Sundarbans protected the region, lessening the impact of the cyclone.

Deaths reported

Five people were killed in Bagerhat, Khulna and Patuakhali districts as the storm crossed through Khulna and the adjoining southwestern part of Bangladesh early Sunday before weakening into a deep depression, United News of Bangladesh reported.

Meanwhile, two other people who took shelter in cyclone centres died of cardiac arrest after being panicked in Patuakhali and Satkhira districts when the storm started battering the region, the news agency said.

Indians walk in the rain in Kolkata, India, on Saturday. (Bikas Das/The Associated Press)

Rahman said authorities moved more than 2.1 million people to over 5,000 shelters before the cyclone crossed the coast.

The weather office had warned that coastal districts were likely to be inundated by storm surges of 1.5-2 metres above normal tide because of the storm. Several ships from Bangladesh’s navy and coast guard were kept ready in parts of the region for an emergency response, the TV station Independent reported.

Rahman said the government suspended weekend leave for government officials in 13 coastal districts.

On Saturday, volunteers used loudspeakers to ask people to move to shelters in Chittagong and other regions, according to the Disaster Management Ministry. In the Cox’s Bazar coastal district, tourists were alerted to stay in their hotels, while a few hundred visitors were stuck on Saint Martins Island.

Authorities suspended all activities in the country’s main seaports, including in Chittagong, which handles almost 80 per cent of Bangladesh’s exports and imports. All vessels and fishing boats were told to stop operating.

Local authorities ordered school buildings and mosques to be used as shelters in addition to dedicated cyclone shelters — raised concrete buildings that have been built over the past decades.

Bangladesh, a nation of 160 million people, has a history of violent cyclones. But disaster preparedness programs in recent decades have upgraded the country’s capacity to deal with natural disasters, resulting in fewer casualties.

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