Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 7 December 2019

Cyclone Bulbul leaves trail of death and destruction in Bangladesh and India

Most of the eight people killed were struck by falling trees

Women react as they look at the damage caused by Cyclone Bulbul in Bakkhali village in India's West Bengal state on November 10, 2019. AFP
Women react as they look at the damage caused by Cyclone Bulbul in Bakkhali village in India's West Bengal state on November 10, 2019. AFP

Eight people were killed and dozens more are missing after Cyclone Bulbul smashed into the coasts of India and Bangladesh with fierce gales and torrential rains.

About two million people huddled in storm shelters as the cyclone struck the Bay of Bengal late on Saturday with winds of up to 120kph closing ports and airports in both countries.

Three people were killed in India's West Bengal state, two after uprooted trees fell on their homes and another after being struck by the falling branches of a tree in Kolkata.

A fourth person died after a wall collapsed in nearby Odisha state.

In Bangladesh, four were killed by falling trees and at least 20 people were injured.

The cyclone also damaged about 4,000 mostly mud and tin-built houses, said the Bangladeshi disaster management secretary, Shah Kamal.

Thirty-six fishermen were missing after two fishing boats failed to return. Relatives were unable to contact the men on board, an official in Bangladesh's Bhola district said.

No major damage was immediately reported in camps in south-east Bangladesh where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees from neighbouring Myanmar live.

Bangladesh weather bureau officials said the cyclone turned into a deep depression as it moved inland, causing heavy rainfall. Wind speeds dropped to between 70 and 80kph.

In Khulna, the worst-hit district in Bangladesh, fallen trees blocked roads and some low-lying areas were flooded, Disaster Management Minister Enamur Rahman said.

About 1,500 tourists were stranded on St Martin's island, off south-eastern Bangladesh, after boat services were cancelled.

"It may take couple of days to return to a normal situation," Mr Rahman said.

Cyclone Bulbul hit the coast at the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest, which straddles Bangladesh and India and is home to endangered species including Bengal tigers and Irrawaddy dolphins.

As the storm approached, authorities suspended all activity at the country's main seaports including Chittagong, which handles about 80 per cent of Bangladesh's exports and imports. All vessels and fishing boats were told to stop operating.

Troops were sent to Bangladesh's 13 coastal districts while more than 2 million people were moved to cyclone shelters.

Tens of thousands of volunteers went door to door and used loudspeakers to urge people to leave their villages.

Local authorities ordered school buildings and mosques to be used as havens along with cyclone shelters, raised concrete buildings that have been built over the past decades.

"We spent the night with another 400 people," said Ambia Begum, 30, a mother of three who arrived at a shelter in the port town of Mongla late on 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."

In India, about 120,000 people who were moved to safety began returning home as the cyclone weakened, authorities said.

"The storm has left a trail of destruction as it crossed the coastline of West Bengal," said the state Urban Development Minister, Firhad Hakim.

"Trees were uprooted, and thatched and corrugated roofs of many houses were blown away."

West Bengal and Odisha states received heavy rainfall since early Saturday.

Bangladesh's low-lying coast, home to 30 million people, and India's east are regularly battered by cyclones, with hundreds of thousands of people killed in recent decades.

While the frequency and intensity of the storms have increased, partly due to climate change, the number of people killed has come down because of faster evacuations and the building of thousands of coastal shelters.

Cyclone Fani was the most powerful storm to hit the area in years when it struck in May, killing 12 people.

In 1999, a super-cyclone battered the coast of India's Odisha state for 30 hours, killing 10,000 people.

Updated: November 11, 2019 02:37 AM

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