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Cyclone Remal hits Bangladesh coast as authorities evacuate over 8 lakh people

Officials said a youth is believed to be the first casualty of the storm as tidal surges swept him away while several people were injured in southeastern Patuakhali.

Cyclone Remal hits Bangladesh coast as authorities evacuate over 8 lakh people

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DHAKA: Severe cyclonic storm ‘Remal’ made landfall in Bangladesh on Sunday night as authorities evacuated over 800,000 people from vulnerable areas of the country’s low-lying southwestern coastlines to shelters.

“The cyclone has made landfall and started crossing the West Bengal coast in India through the south-west side of Mongla and Khepupara coast of Bangladesh around 8:30 pm (local time),” a met office spokesman told reporters.

He said the storm approached from Bangladesh’s southwestern coastlines and West Bengal’s Sagar Island and was proceeding towards the northern direction and was “likely to cross the coastlines in the next five to seven hours”.

The eye of the cyclonic storm is scheduled to cross Bangladesh between 12:00-1:00am on Monday (local time) after which the cyclone is expected to weaken.

Officials said a youth is believed to be the first casualty of the storm as tidal surges swept him away while several people were injured in southeastern Patuakhali.

Police said an overcrowded ferry carrying more than 50 passengers – double its capacity – sank near Mongla Port, the path of the storm, as people were fleeing to safety. However, the people were rescued with some injuries.

Red Crescent volunteers joined hands with government officials, police and fire brigade to alert and motivate people to move to safe shelters.

According to Bangladesh meteorology department (BMD), Ramel is expected to reach maximum wind speeds of up to 120 kilometers per hour, with gusts up to 135 kph. The BMD, however, recorded so far maximum wind speeds of 90 kilometres per hour but feared the wind speed might pick up more pace.

“The storm alongside the high tide turned terrifying,” a district administration official in-charge of a makeshift control room in Patuakhali, told PTI by phone.

Senior BMD meteorologist Muhammad Abul Kalam Mallik shortly before the landfall said the cyclone could unleash a storm surge of up to 12 feet above normal astronomical tide.

He said the high tide was “dangerous” for human lives and vulnerable infrastructures as low-lying deltaic Bangladesh coasts are just one or two metres above sea level and high storm surges can devastate villages.

Meteorologists earlier warned the severe storm could uproot trees and cause major damage to thatched homes and disrupt power and communication systems.

The Met Office earlier issued “great danger signal” no 10 on a scale of 10 for southwestern greater Barisal and its shoals and great danger signal no nine for the southeastern coastlines including the port city of Chattogram.

“Under the peripheral effect of the severe cyclone and steep pressure gradient, the low-lying areas of the coastal districts…and their offshore islands and chars are likely to be inundated by a wind-driven surge of 08-12 feet height above normal astronomical tide,” the BSS news agency reported, citing the latest met office bulletin.

State Minister for Disaster Management and Relief Md Mohibur Rahman told a press briefing that over eight lakh people were evacuated to cyclone centres and other safer places.

“We have taken all necessary measures on an urgent basis to tackle the severe cyclonic storm…all relevant organisations have been asked to work in a coordinated manner to face the cyclone,” he said, adding that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is constantly monitoring the situation.

Cyclone-prone Bangladesh has designed most schools in coastal regions as cyclone shelters alongside constructing dedicated structures to enable people to take refuge during surges and many of these multi-storey facilities have space for sheltering cattle as well.

Leaves of officials of all ministries, divisions and subordinate offices have been cancelled to tackle the possible aftermath of Cyclone Remal, the Daily Star newspaper reported.

The Chattogram Port Authority has suspended all operations in the port as cyclone Remal heads towards the coast, it said.

According to the Dhaka Tribune newspaper, flight operations at the Chittagong airport have been suspended for eight hours.

National carrier Biman Bangladesh Airlines announced the suspension of its flights to Cox’s Bazar for Sunday due to Cyclonic storm Remal. Besides, flights of BG395 and BG391 to Kolkata will remain suspended today and tomorrow, respectively, said Bosra Islam, general manager of the Public Relations Wing of Biman Bangladesh Airlines, local media reported.

“A large-scale evacuation started after the Met Office issued danger signal number 10 and nine. All vulnerable people are presumed to be moved to safer places at the shortest possible time,” Disaster Management Director General Mizanur Rahman was quoted as saying by BSS.

Alongside evacuation of the people, domestic animals have been taken to designated cyclone shelters, he said, adding that a total of 8,464 cyclone shelters, including Mujib Kella, have been kept ready to provide refuge to the people living in 19 coastal districts, which might be affected by the cyclone Remal.

Sufficient food has been stocked for the people living in the cyclone centres alongside the people of 19 coastal districts, Mizanur said. He said all upazila and district administrations have adequate cash to provide prompt response to the people who will be affected by the cyclone.

“We have also kept ready 1,185 medical teams to offer urgent healthcare support to the people as cyclone Rimel may hit the coastal belts of Bangladesh with massive strength,” the disaster management chief said.

The coastal districts which are under cyclone threat are Khulna, Satkhira, Bagerhat, Pirojpur, Jhalakathi, Barguna, Barisal, Bhola, Patuakhali, Chittagong, Cox’s Bazar, Feni, Comilla, Noakhali, Lakshmipur and Chandpur.

The Disaster Management and Relief Ministry officials said 78,000 volunteers from the Cyclone Preparedness Programme (CPP) have been kept ready to deal with ‘Remal’ in the coastal district.

This is the first cyclone in the Bay of Bengal in this pre-monsoon season and is named Remal (meaning sand in Arabic) according to a system of naming cyclones in the Indian Ocean region.

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