Bangladesh Hit by Cyclone, Forcing Nearly a Million to Seek Inland Shelter

A powerful cyclone made landfall on the vulnerable coastline of Bangladesh on Sunday, prompting nearly one million individuals to evacuate to sturdy storm shelters away from strong winds and turbulent seas.

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Cyclone Remal, a significant threat, has begun its impact on the Bangladesh coast,” stated Azizur Rahman, Director of the Bangladesh Meteorological Department, cautioning that the tempestuous conditions could persist until early Monday.

Currently, we’ve observed peak wind velocities reaching 90 kilometers per hour, but there’s potential for further acceleration,” remarked forecasters, anticipating gusts of up to 130 km/h along with intense rainfall and strong winds affecting neighboring India as well.

Officials have elevated the danger signal to its utmost level.

In recent decades, cyclones have claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands in Bangladesh. However, the frequency of superstorms striking its densely populated coastline has surged, escalating from an annual occurrence to as many as three, attributed to the effects of climate change.

“The cyclone could unleash a storm surge of up to four metres above normal astronomical tide, which can be dangerous,” Bangladeshi senior weather official Muhammad Abul Kalam Mallik told AFP.

The majority of Bangladesh’s coastal regions lie merely a meter or two above sea level, rendering them highly susceptible to devastating storm surges that can wreak havoc on villages.

“We are terrified,” said 35-year-old fisherman Yusuf Fakir at Kuakata, a town on the very southern tip of Bangladesh along the predicted route of the storm, speaking just before its arrival. While he had sent his wife and children to a relative’s home inland, he stayed put to guard their belongings.

Over 800,000 Bangladeshis evacuated their coastal communities, and over 50,000 individuals in India relocated inland from the expansive Sundarbans mangrove forest, where the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna rivers converge with the sea, as stated by government ministers and disaster officials.

“We are determined to safeguard every life,” emphasized Bankim Chandra Hazra, a senior minister in West Bengal state, India.

Amid the mass exodus, Bangladeshi authorities reported the sinking of a heavily overloaded ferry, carrying over 50 passengers—twice its intended capacity—near Mongla, a port directly in the projected trajectory of the storm.

“At least 13 individuals sustained injuries and have been transported to a hospital,” informed local police chief Mushfiqur Rahman Tushar to AFP, noting that other vessels rescued the passengers from the water, ensuring their safety.

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A tragic incident unfolded as a young man lost his life to the turbulent seas at Kuakata on Sunday afternoon, confirmed district government administrator Nur Kutubul Alam to AFP.

Bangladesh’s disaster management secretary, Kamrul Hasan, highlighted the imperative of relocating individuals from “unsafe and vulnerable” residences. “At least 800,000 people have been transferred to cyclone shelters,” Hasan disclosed, emphasizing the proactive measures undertaken for their safety.

The authorities have mobilised tens of thousands of volunteers to alert people to the danger but local officials said many people stayed home as they feared their property would be stolen if they left.

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

As the cyclone approached, not only were villagers and fishermen evacuated, but many multi-story centers also opened up space to accommodate livestock, including cattle, buffaloes, goats, and pets.

On the low-lying island of Bhashan Char, where 36,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar reside, deputy refugee commissioner Mohammad Rafiqul Haque informed AFP that 57 cyclone centers were made available.

Authorities took precautionary measures by shutting down the country’s three seaports and the airport in Chittagong, the second-largest city, to ensure the safety of the public.

India’s Kolkata airport closed Sunday, while the Indian navy readied two ships with aid and medical supplies for “immediate deployment”.

While scientists say climate change is fuelling more storms, better forecasting and more effective evacuation planning have dramatically reduced the death toll. In the Great Bhola Cyclone in November 1970, an estimated half a million people died — mostly drowned by the storm surge.

In May last year, Cyclone Mocha became the most powerful storm to hit Bangladesh since Cyclone Sidr in November 2007. Sidr killed more than 3,000 people and caused billions of dollars in damage.

Last October, at least two people were killed and nearly 300,000 fled their homes for storm shelters when Cyclone Hamoon hit the country’s southeastern coast.

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