24 dead as cyclone hits Bangladesh’s southern coast

DHAKA • Thousands of Bangladeshis were left homeless yesterday 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 off guard.

The authorities evacuated more than 500,000 people before the cyclone hit with winds of up to 88kmh, which 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 it, the whole village was washed away by a huge wall of water,” said Mr 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 Agence France-Presse.

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.

Bangladesh’s disaster management chief said thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed and 24 people had been killed in total in the latest cyclone. About half of those who died were from the Chittagong region which bore the brunt of the storm, Disaster Management Department head Reaz Ahmed said.

“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,” Mr Ahmed said.

The 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 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.

A week of extreme weather 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.

In Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, floodwaters were receding after the heaviest rains in 25 years pounded the country since the previous weekend, triggering landslides that have buried victims in tonnes of mud.

Soldiers and other rescuers have discovered 15 bodies in the last 24 hours in the worst-hit district of Kegalle, about 100 km north-east of Colombo, where two villages were destroyed last week. -AFP