Thousands homeless in cyclone-hit Bangladesh

People gather near the debris of the damaged shops following the cyclone Roanu at the Pattenga Sea- Beach in Chittagong, Bangladesh on May 21, 2016.
People gather near the debris of the damaged shops following the cyclone Roanu at the Pattenga Sea- Beach in Chittagong, Bangladesh on May 21, 2016. PHOTO: EPA
People walk in the streets in the rain as they look for shelter during the cyclone Roanu in Chittagong, Bangladesh on May 21, 2016.
People walk in the streets in the rain as they look for shelter during the cyclone Roanu in Chittagong, Bangladesh on May 21, 2016. PHOTO: EPA
Bangladeshi villagers make their way to shelter in Cox's Bazar on May 21, 2016, as Cyclone Roanu approached.
Bangladeshi villagers make their way to shelter in Cox's Bazar on May 21, 2016, as Cyclone Roanu approached. PHOTO: AFP
Bangladeshi rescue workers search for survivors after Cyclone Roanu hit Chittagong on May 21, 2016.
Bangladeshi rescue workers search for survivors after Cyclone Roanu hit Chittagong on May 21, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

DHAKA (AFP) - Thousands of Bangladeshis were left homeless on Sunday (May 22) after Cyclone Roanu battered the impoverished southern coastal region, ripping apart flimsy houses and killing at least 24 people.

The storm on Saturday ploughed through low-lying villages in the Chittagong and Barisal regions, where residents described seeing metres-high walls of water that caught some unaware.

Authorities evacuated more than 500,000 people to shelters before the cyclone hit with winds of up to 88km per hour. They later weakened.

But officials said thousands of others along the coast were left stranded in their homes as sea water ripped through dykes and flooded dozens of villages.

"Before we could realise, the whole village was washed away by a huge wall of water," said Abu Siddique, a councillor from Banshkhali district in Chittagong.

"It came at least six hours early, giving the villagers no time to rush to cyclone shelters. Those who died were caught by a sudden rush of water," he told AFP.

"They (authorities) said the storm surge would be four-feet high but in some places the water that hit our shore was as high as 10 feet (3m)."

Bangladesh's disaster management chief said thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed and 24 people had been killed in total, up from 23 recorded on Saturday.

About half of those who died were from the Chittagong region which bore the brunt of the storm, Disaster Management Department head Reaz Ahmed told AFP.

"Some 80,000 tin-and-mud-built homes were damaged by the storm in the coastal regions including 23,000 homes which were completed knocked down," Ahmed said.

Authorities were sending relief supplies including rice and other dry food to affected areas, where many poor residents already have very little and scratch a living as small fishermen or farmers.

Television footage showed villagers sitting helplessly in front of their flattened houses.

"In a moment my home was destroyed," an unnamed villager in Bhola island off the Barisal coast told private Independent television.

Over 80 villages in Barisal were flooded after a rain-swollen dam burst and forced residents to flee, the Daily Star newspaper said on Sunday.

Seawater gushed through shops and warehouses in the commercial hub and main port city of Chittagong, police and industry officials said.

"Food supplies worth one billion taka (S$17.5 million) was damaged after seawater entered our warehouses," Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Mahbubul Alam told AFP.

A week of extreme weather had wreaked havoc across South Asia, with Sri Lanka battered by the heaviest rains in a quarter of a century which triggered severe floods and landslides.

Bangladesh is regularly battered by cyclones which form in the Bay of Bengal. Cyclone Aila in 2009 killed 300 people while Cyclone Sidra claimed 4,000 lives in 2007.

Earlier this month lightning strikes killed an unprecedented 59 people in Bangladesh in three days as tropical thunderstorms hit the country before the annual monsoon, which runs from June to September.