At least nine people have died after Cyclone Sitrang slammed into Bangladesh’s southern coast, snapping communications and power links and destroying houses, officials said.
“Nine people have died, most by trees falling including three from one family in (the eastern district of) Cumilla,” Jebun Nahar, a government official, told AFP news agency.
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The cyclone – the equivalent of hurricanes in the Atlantic or typhoons in the west Pacific – made landfall in southern Bangladesh late on Monday but authorities managed to get about a million people to safety before the monster weather system hit.
The cyclone barrelled in from the Bay of Bengal early on Monday with winds gusting up to 88km/h (55mph) and a storm surge of about three metres (10ft) that flooded low-lying coastal areas.
Power and telephone links have been largely cut and coastal areas plunged into darkness, officials said.
“It was terrible, it looked like the sea was coming to grab us,” Mizanur Rahman, a resident of Bhola district, told Reuters after communications were restored in his neighbourhood.
“We spent a sleepless night, all we could do was pray.”
People evacuated from low-lying regions such as remote islands and riverbanks were moved to thousands of multi-storey cyclone shelters, Disaster Management Ministry secretary Kamrul Ahsan told AFP.
“They spent the night in cyclone shelters,” he said.
Heavy rains lashed much of the country, flooding cities such as the capital, Dhaka, Khulna and Barisal – which witnessed 324 millimetres (13 inches) of rainfall on Monday.
Al Jazeera’s Tanvir Chowdhury, reporting from Barisal in southwest Bangladesh, said the tidal surge in the wake of the cyclone has inundated coastal areas and destroyed farmland and fisheries.
“The government was successfully able to evacuate nearly 700,000 people on Monday evening to the cyclone shelters,” he said from Barisal, about 30km (18 miles) from the coastline in the south.
“There’s no electricity in the southwest belt, including the Barisal city. This comes at a time when there is a power crisis in the region,” Chowdhury said.
“The internet and communication links are disrupted,” the Al Jazeera correspondent said, adding that it will take some time to know the exact extent of the damage.
No major damage was reported in refugee camps in southeast Bangladesh, where more than a million ethnic Rohingya refugees from neighbouring Myanmar are living in crowded shelters.
About 33,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, controversially relocated from the mainland to a storm-prone island in the Bay of Bengal, were ordered to stay indoors and there were no reports of any casualties or damage, officials said.
In the neighbouring eastern Indian state of West Bengal, thousands of people were evacuated on Monday to more than 100 relief centres, officials said, but there were no reports of damage and people were returning home on Tuesday.
Cyclone Amphan, the second “super cyclone” ever recorded over the Bay of Bengal, which hit in 2020, killed more than 100 people in Bangladesh and India, and affected millions.
In recent years, better forecasting and more effective evacuation planning have dramatically reduced the death toll from such storms. The worst recorded, in 1970, killed hundreds of thousands of people.
South Asia has experienced increasing extreme weather in recent years causing large-scale damage. According to environmentalists, cyclones, while regular, are getting more intense and frequent due to climate change.
Bangladesh country director of ActionAid group Farah Kabir said 2022 had seen climate emergencies such as floods and droughts “on a scale that has never been witnessed before”.
“The climate crisis is growing, and here in Bangladesh we feel its ferocity,” he said.
“When extreme weather events like Cyclone Sitrang strike, communities are left devastated. We urgently need access to funds that support communities living through the reality of the climate crisis.”
A World Bank Institute study in 2015 estimated that some 3.5 million people in Bangladesh were at risk of river flooding every year.