Deadly Cyclone Bulbul weakens over Bangladesh

    Bangladesh's low-lying coast is regularly battered by cyclones [Munir Uz Zaman/AFP]
    Bangladesh's low-lying coast is regularly battered by cyclones [Munir Uz Zaman/AFP]

    A strong cyclone lashed northeastern India and Bangladesh on Sunday, killing several people in both countries after more than two million moved to shelters.

    Cyclone Bulbul left at least seven people dead in India's West Bengal state, where the storm first made landfall at around midnight Saturday, the Press Trust of India news agency reported. The storm then made its way to neighbouring Bangladesh, where seven people were killed, according to the United News of Bangladesh news agency.

    Enamur Rahman, Bangladesh's junior disaster management minister, said about 5,000 homes across the country's coastal region were damaged and many trees were uprooted by the cyclone. The agriculture ministry said more than 200,000 hectares (494,200 acres) of crop land was damaged in Bangladesh.

    Packing winds of up to 120 kilometres (75 miles) per hour and gusts of up to 130kph (80mph), Bulbul weakened when it started crossing Bangladesh's southwestern coastal region, dumping incessant rain across the country.

    Five people were missing after a fishing trawler sank in squally weather on Meghna River near the southern island of Bhola, district administrator Masud Alam Siddiqui told AFP news agency.

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    Bangladesh's weather office said the cyclone first slammed ashore at Sagar Island in the southern part of India's West Bengal state before moving to Bangladesh. Its path included the southwestern Khulna region, which has the world's largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans, which straddles the Bangladesh-India border.

    The weather office said the Sundarbans protected the region, lessening the impact of the cyclone.

    Five people were killed in Bagerhat, Khulna and Patuakhali districts as the storm crossed through Khulna and the adjoining southwestern part of Bangladesh early Sunday before weakening into a deep depression, United News of Bangladesh reported.

    Alamgir Hossein, 30, of Senhati in Khulna died while clearing the trees and other debris on Sunday morning.

    Bangladesh, a nation of 160 million people, has a history of violent cyclones. But disaster preparedness programmes in recent decades have upgraded the country's capacity to deal with them, resulting in fewer casualties.

    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.

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

    "I am worried about my cattle and the straw roof of my house. I could not bring them here. Allah knows what is happening there," the 30-year-old mother said.

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    Heavy rains

    Rainfall has been torrential, with the Indian city of Kolkata in West Bengal picking up 101mm of rain in just 18 hours. Canning, to the southeast received 202mm in 24 hours. To the south in Odisha state, Paradip received 172mm and Chandbali was not far behind with 162mm in just 24 hours.

    Indian media reported that scores of trees were uprooted and houses were damaged as the storm moved inland with flooding rain and heavy winds.

    Rainfall continues to be heavy and widespread, with Mongla in Bangladesh, which sits just to the north of the mangrove forests already receiving 219mm of rain, and the district of Bhola to the east picking up 147mm in the last 24 hours. 

    As the storm moves across Bangladesh on Sunday, it will continue to weaken, with winds easing and the rain replaced by scattered showers.

    By Monday, its remnants will produce widespread but lighter rains throughout eastern Bangladesh and the far northeast of India and northern Myanmar.

    Millions evacuated

    More than two million people from all of Bangladesh's 13 coastal districts huddled in about 5,558 shelters on Saturday night. On the Indian side of the border, more than 60,000 people were moved away from the coast.

    About 1,200 predominantly domestic tourists were stuck at St Martin's Island in the Cox's Bazar district of Bangladesh, Enamur Rahman, junior minister for disaster management and relief, told Reuters news agency.

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    Bangladesh's two biggest ports, Mongla and Chittagong, were closed because of the storm, and flights into Chittagong airport were halted.

    In India, flights in and out of Kolkata airport were suspended for 12 hours because of the storm.

    On the West Bengal island of Mousuni, which was in the path of the storm, frightened residents took shelter in schools and government buildings because they had not been able to escape.

    Military planes and ships have been put on standby to help in emergencies, Indian authorities said.

    Indian media reported scores of trees were uprooted and houses were damaged as the storm moved inland with flooding rain and heavy winds.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies