x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Cyclone Aila slams Bangladesh coast

Emergency teams raced to rescue cyclone survivors in the remote south-west of Bangladesh as the death toll continued to rise.

DHAKA, BANGLADESH // Emergency teams raced to rescue cyclone survivors in the remote south-west of Bangladesh today as the death toll from the storm rose to 180. Cyclone Aila slammed into the coast of Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal on Monday, leaving hundreds of thousands of people homeless after a tidal surge washed away villages, roads and livestock. Military and civil relief workers struggled to deliver food, fresh water and shelters to regions worst affected by the surge of seawater and destructive high winds, authorities in Dhaka said.

About 110 people were killed in Bangladesh and 70 more died in India, officials said. Bangladesh's disaster management minister Abdur Razzak said conditions on the ground were desperate but that a major relief and rescue operation was in full swing. "We have adequate resources to ensure food, relief and rehabilitation, and we'll work for as long as it takes to reach those affected," Mr Razzak said.

In India's West Bengal, the cyclone hit the state capital of Kolkata, bringing down trees and electricity pylons and smashing cars. About 20 of those killed died a day after the storm in mudslides caused by rainfall in the hill resort of Darjeeling, the state's chief secretary Asoke Mohon Chakraborty said. "The cyclone travelled through northern districts of the state and heavy downpours triggered over 40 landslides on Tuesday," he said.

Mr Chakraborty said he expected further fatalities to be reported as relief workers reached outlying villages. The storm caused havoc in the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest and home to about 650 endangered Bengal tigers. Conservationists have launched a search to assess whether any of the animals might have been killed when the cyclone tore through the forest, which straddles India and Bangladesh.

There were also concerns that the tigers' drinking sources might also have being polluted by saltwater driven inland. "Many islands and a large swathe of the mangrove forest in the Sundarbans are still under water," Mr Chakraborty said. "We have been dropping food to marooned people by helicopter." In Bangladesh, at least 250,000 people were stranded in the hard-hit districts of Koyra and Dakope. "People are half-fed or not fed at all. There is a huge crisis with no drinking water as all the wells and ponds are submerged by salty seawater," Koyra chief Arif Pasha said by telephone.

"In some places there is no dry land for a proper air drop."