8 killed, over 21 lakh people evacuated as Cyclone Bulbul wreaks havoc in Bangladesh

Meraj Bhat

Dhaka, Nov 10 (PTI) At least eight people were killed and 15 others injured as Cyclone Bulbul smashed into the low-lying areas of Bangladesh on Sunday, bringing in its wake torrential rains coupled with howling gales and ravaging the coastlines of West Bengal.

The cyclone packed winds of up to 120 kilometres per hour (kph) when it made a predawn landfall before weakening into a deep depression, forcing the authorities to evacuate over 21 lakh people from the low-lying areas.

The authorities have ordered a temporary ban on boat and ferry movements in internal riverine routes and coastal waters, besides closing air traffic operations near coastal airports for nearly 24 hours.

At least eight people in seven coastal districts have been reported dead from a combination of falling trees, collapsed houses and illness after Cyclone Bulbul ripped through southern Bangladesh, bdnews24.com reported.

The health directorate's Health Emergency Operation Centre and Control Room confirmed the death toll on Sunday, the report said, adding that 25 people have been injured due to the cyclonic storm.

Two people died after being crushed by trees upended during the storm in Khulna's Dighalia and Dacope Upazilas, while an elderly man died after a tree fell on his house in Patuakhali, the health officials said.

In similar incidents, a woman died after her house was rattled by strong winds in Madaripur Sadar Upazila, while an elderly woman died under a fallen tree in Barishal in the municipal town of Uzirpur, the report said, quoting a senior government official.

An elderly woman died after falling sick in Barguna Sadar Upazila and a man died when a tree toppled by strong wind gusts landed on his house in Pirojpur's Nazirpur Upazila, the report said.

A young girl died after a tree was upended during the storm in Bagerhat's Rampal Ujolpur area, said the health directorate.

At least 15 people were injured in different incidents at four coastal districts. Nine of them are currently receiving treatment at hospitals, the report said.

Bangladesh's Meteorological Department in a special bulletin on Sunday said the cyclone 'weakened' and 'started crossing' India's West Bengal and Bangladesh's southwestern Khulna coast.

The met office on Saturday issued its highest 'great signal numbers' 10 and 9 for the southwestern and southeastern coastlines, prompting authorities to launch a massive evacuation campaign. The met office on Sunday lowered the number to 3.

Disaster ministry secretary Shah Kamal said they initially planned to evacuate 14 lakh people to 5,000 cyclone shelters, however by Saturday midnight, the figure rose to over 21 lakh.

The cyclone, packing gusts of up to 130 kph, coincided with the moon phase or full moon, which inflates sea waters, raising fears of a catastrophe.

However, meteorologists said the damage was less than expected as its landfall came during the low tide early in the morning, instead of midnight when the Bangladesh coasts witness high tide.

'Much of its intensity was lost largely by the time it reached Bangladesh after ravaging West Bengal coastlines,' a met office spokesman said.

Bulbul slammed ashore near Sagar Island in West Bengal and approached world's largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans, which straddles the Bangladesh-India border.

The government suspended weekend leave for government officials in 13 coastal districts on Saturday. The army troops were also called in to supplement the cyclone preparedness.

Authorities also suspended all activities in the country's seaports, including in Chattogram Port, which handles almost 80 per cent of Bangladesh's exports and imports.

According to US-based AccuWeather Inc, Bulbul strengthened from a deep depression into a tropical cyclone on Thursday morning, and by Friday afternoon had strengthened into a severe cyclone.

Bulbul was the equivalent of a Category 1 or 2 hurricane in the Atlantic, it said.

Bangladesh's coastal areas are often hit by deadly cyclones, but the country has upgraded its capacity to deal with natural disasters, successfully reducing the number of casualties in recent years. PTI AR SCY MRJ MRJ