14 killed, over 2m moved to shelters as cyclone batters India, Bangladesh

A woman beside the remains of her house in the village of Bakkhali, in India, after it was damaged by Cyclone Bulbul. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
A woman beside the remains of her house in the village of Bakkhali, in India, after it was damaged by Cyclone Bulbul. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW DELHI/DHAKA • Fourteen people have died and more than two million others spent a night huddled in storm shelters as Cyclone Bulbul smashed into the coasts of India and Bangladesh with fierce gales and torrential rains, officials said yesterday.

The cyclone packed winds of up to 120kmh when it hit late last Saturday, closing down ports and airports in both countries.

Seven people were killed in India's West Bengal state, the Press Trust of India reported, including two who died after uprooted trees fell on their homes and another person who was struck by falling branches in Kolkata.

An eighth person died under a collapsed wall in nearby Odisha state.

In Bangladesh, six people were killed - five by falling trees - and at least 20 people were injured.

Five others were missing after a fishing trawler sank in squally weather on the Meghna River near the southern island of Bhola, district administrator Masud Alam Siddiqui said.

Around 1,500 tourists were stranded on St Martin's Island off south-eastern Bangladesh after boat services were cancelled.

The cyclone also damaged some 4,000 mostly mud and tin-built houses, disaster management secretary Shah Kamal said.

In coastal Khulna, the worst-hit district in Bangladesh, trees swayed violently and were ripped off the ground in the fierce storm, blocking roads and hampering access to the area.

WORRIED

We spent the night with another 400 people. I am worried about my cattle and the straw roof of my house... Allah knows what is happening there.

MS AMBIA BEGUM, who arrived with her family at a shelter in the Bangladeshi port town of Mongla late last Saturday.

Some low-lying parts of the district were flooded, Disaster Management Minister Enamur Rahman said. Bangladesh moved 2.1 million people to safety ahead of the cyclone, Mr Rahman said, while India moved nearly 125,000 people, mostly in West Bengal state.

Troops were sent to coastal districts, while tens of thousands of volunteers went door to door and used loudspeakers to urge people to evacuate their villages.

Ms Ambia Begum, who arrived with her family at a shelter in the Bangladeshi port town of Mongla late last Saturday, said: "We spent the night with another 400 people."

The 30-year-old mother of three added: "I am worried about my cattle and the straw roof of my house... Allah knows what is happening there."

The authorities said the cyclone was weakening as it moved inland.

"It has turned into a deep depression, causing heavy rainfall," Bangladesh's weather bureau deputy chief Ayesha Khatun said.

Bulbul hit the coast at the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest that straddles Bangladesh and India and is home to endangered species including Bengal tigers and Irrawaddy dolphins.

The mangroves shielded the coast from the storm's full impact, Ms Khatun said.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he has reviewed the situation in eastern India and assured the region of all possible assistance from the central government.

Rescue and relief teams have been sent to affected areas to assess the damage, Mr Amalendu Dutta, an official in the West Bengal disaster management agency, said by phone from Kolkata.

Bangladeshi officials said the storm left crops damaged over vast coastal areas.

"We have asked the local administration to conduct a quick assessment into the damages caused by the cyclone," Mr Shahadat Hossain, the head of Bangladesh's disaster management department, said by phone.

Standing crops, especially padi and vegetable plantations, may have been dealt a severe blow, he said, adding that a detailed report on the damage would be available in a week.

Bangladesh's low-lying coast, home to 30 million people, and India's east are regularly battered by cyclones.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, DPA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2019, with the headline '14 killed, over 2m moved to shelters as cyclone batters India, Bangladesh'. Print Edition | Subscribe