A volunteer urges people to move to safety as Cylone Sitrang lashes Bangladesh on Oct. 24. (Photo: Caritas Bangladesh)
The government and aid agencies have rushed to assist victims and assess the damage after Cyclone Sitrang lashed Bangladesh, killing at least 35 and leaving a trail of destruction.
The cyclone, packing wind speeds of about 90 kilometers per hour slammed into Bangladesh late on Oct 24 and impacted 13 districts in the southern coastal region, according to the Bangladesh Meteorological Office.
In the coastal region, thousands of houses were destroyed or damaged and roads and villages were flooded due to heavy rain and tidal surges. Television footage showed people frantically heading to cyclone shelters as strong winds coupled with torrential rain hit coastal communities.
The cyclone uprooted many trees and electric poles leaving vast areas in the coastal region without electricity and mobile connections for prolonged periods.
The impact of the cyclone was strongly felt in the capital Dhaka, hundreds of kilometers away. Many trees there were also uprooted, and heavy rain left streets flooded.
Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated ahead of the cyclone, but many had started to return home from shelters as of Oct. 25.
"We will appeal for help to international donor agencies"
The Disaster Management Ministry reported that 35 people were killed, including 10 women and 4 children. The deaths occurred from the collapse of houses and trees and drowning.
“River water swelled at least eight feet [2.4 meters] above normal resulting in inundation of coastal areas. Now, people are leaving the cyclone centers and going home”, Disaster Ministry Control Room spokesman Nikhil Sarker told UCA News.
Officials from Catholic charity Caritas said its three regional offices covering southern Bangladesh have rushed to help victims of the storm.
Caritas Barisal regional director Francis Bapari told UCA News that his field office staff were in action as soon as the cyclone was forecast. They helped people move to cyclone shelters, where dry food worth about 100,000 taka (US$990) was distributed.
“We are now surveying the extent of the damage. Accordingly, we will appeal for help to international donor agencies through our National Office,” Bapari told UCA News.
Similarly, Caritas Khulna and Chittagong regional offices are assessing the damage.
"I am ruined. I don't know what to do"
“Cyclone Sitrang damaged people's houses and damaged crops in some of our Christian-dominated areas. We are trying to assess the extent of the damage,” said Daud Jibon Das, regional director of Caritas Khulna
“We along with the government took around 15,000 people to cyclone centers and distributed dry food to around 1,000 people,” Das told UCA News.
The Department of Agricultural Extension estimated the cyclone damaged about 11 percent of the crop in 13 affected districts. In the Khulna region, some 191,600 hectares of fish farms were washed away.
Sumon Baroi, 38, a Catholic from the Dacop area in Khulna said he cultivated fish in a pond, but it was washed away by heavy rain and surging seawater.
“I farmed fish in the pond I owned with a loan from a bank. But everything is gone, and I am ruined. I don't know what to do. If I get government support, I may be able to recover,” he told UCA News.
During a press conference on Oct 25, the State Minister for Disaster Management and Relief Enamur Rahman said the government is assessing the damage and had already allocated funds to help affected people.
“Instructions were given to protect cattle and food. In addition to allocating 500,000 taka to each district, adequate provision of dry food has been made,” he said.
Bangladesh is a low-lying country and on its floodplains are hundreds of rivers that empty into the Bay of Bengal.
This unique geography makes the country’s agricultural land fertile, but also vulnerable to natural disasters like cyclones, flooding, tidal surges and river erosion, which kill people and destroy livelihoods every year.
Scientists believe the frequency and intensity of these occurrences have increased in countries in the Bay of Bengal basin over the past decades due to the impact of climate change.
In addition, they warn that a predicted one-meter sea level rise due to global warming and polar ice melting might wipe away Bangladesh’s entire coastline and displace about 20 million people by 2050.