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|Severe cyclone kills 150 in Bangladesh: officials|
|Friday, 16 November 2007|
DHAKA (AFP) — A powerful cyclone smashed into Bangladesh killing more than 150 people as it uprooted trees, destroyed homes and forced tens of thousands to flee for their lives, officials said.
The eye of cyclone Sidr, shown in satellite images as a huge swirling white mass moving in from the Bay of Bengal, hit land Thursday night before sweeping north towards the capital Dhaka.
"We have been told by police that over 150 people died in the cyclone," said Major Emdadul Islam of the army control room.
Most deaths were caused by trees crushing flimsy homes made of bamboo and tin, said police.
The extent of the damage caused by Sidr was expected to be severe and the number of casualties high, officials said.
"Many trees have been uprooted and houses and schools blown away," said Mostofa Kamal, a district relief official in Barisal, 120 kilometres (75 miles) south of Dhaka.
Southern areas were plunged into darkness as electricity supply lines were snapped and "innumerable" homes flattened, the private UNB news agency reported, quoting its correspondents.
Wind speeds of 220-240 kilometres (140-155 miles) an hour were recorded in what officials described as one of the worst storms in years.
Tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of people in the southwest spent the night in special evacuation shelters in a bid to avoid the massive casualties of previous cyclones.
Although officials said they were optimistic the death toll would not be in the thousands, they feared widespread destruction.
"We expect the damage to be enormous," said an official of the disaster management and relief ministry.
The dead included an elderly man who drowned when a boat carrying 17 people across a river in southern Satkhira district capsized during the storm. The other passengers were able to swim ashore, an official said.
Experts described Sidr as similar in strength to the 1991 storm that triggered a tidal wave that killed an estimated 138,000 people.
Another cyclone in 1970 killed up to half a million people in the disaster-prone and impoverished country.
Bangladesh has since set up an early warning system and a network of shelters in vulnerable coastal areas.
The head of the Bangladeshi meteorological department, Samarendra Karmakar, said he was optimistic the evacuation programme would spare the country the huge loss of life seen in previous decades.
"It is not less severe than the 1991 cyclone, in some places it is more severe. But we are expecting less casualties this time because the government took early measures. We alerted people to be evacuated early," he said.
India escaped the fury of the cyclone, which forecasters said would lose strength on Saturday just south of the mountain kingdom of Bhutan.
"It's a great relief to us," said West Bengal relief minister Mortaza Hossain.
"Over 100 mud houses have been damaged and tin roofs blown off houses as squall and rains hit the Sunderbans," mangrove forest close to Bangladesh, he said.
Some 100,000 villagers in coastal areas of West Bengal were returning home Friday despite heavy rain after being evacuated to 69 temporary camps, he said.
The storm, which reached Dhaka early Friday, weakened overnight and was now progressing through the northeastern state of Sylhet, said weather department forecaster Farah Deebaa.
"It has lost its intensity and is crossing the Sylhet region as a land depression," she said.