Bangladesh evacuates coast, braces for cyclone Mahasen

by Nita Bhalla | @nitabhalla | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 15 May 2013 14:50 GMT

Bangladeshi villagers gather at a cyclone shelter after a cyclone hit the coast in Cox's Bazar April 18, 2009. REUTERS/Stringer

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NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Thousands of Bangladeshis living in coastal areas were being evacuated on Wednesday before the arrival of cyclone Mahasen, which was expected to hit the region within 12 hours.

Mahasen, packing wind speeds of up to 88 kmph (54 mph), was in the Bay of Bengal and was hurtling towards Bangladesh's Chittagong and Cox's Bazar region -- as well as neighbouring Myanmar's Rakhine state -- prompting authorities to raise the danger level to 7 out of 10 and move around 15,000 people from their homes.

Mahasen has already killed at least seven people and displaced around 3,900 in Sri Lanka.

"(The cyclone) is likely to intensify further and move in a north-northeasterly direction and may cross Kepurara-Tekhaf coast near Chittagong by early morning tomorrow," the latest bulletin issued by Bangladesh's Disaster Management Information Centre said.

"The maritime ports of Chittagong and Cox's Bazar have been advised to lower local warning signal number four and instead hoist gander signal number seven," it said.

The cyclone could create a surge of up to seven feet (two metres) in low-lying coastal areas and the sea would be rough, the bulletin said. Fishermen were ordered to stay on land and ports and airports in the region were due to shut down.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the storm had weakened but could still threaten 8.2 million people across the region.

PREPARING FOR THE WORST

Bangladesh - one of the world's most densely populated countries - is highly vulnerable to natural disasters, including cyclones, storm surges, droughts, floods and earthquakes, which often affect millions of people.

Cyclone Sidr in 2007 killed around 3,500 people in Bangladesh. A year later, cyclone Nargis devastated neighbouring Myanmar and left up to 140,000 dead.

The Bangladesh government has set up more than 500 emergency shelters, equipped with dry foods, drinking water and medicines. Schools, hospitals and madrasas (religious schools) will also be used as refuges.

Aid workers say they have been positioning stocks of essential items such jerry cans, hygiene kits, candles, tarpaulin sheets and chlorine tablets for the largely poor fishing communities living in the area.

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