Bangladesh cyclone kills hundreds

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A cyclone that slammed into Bangladesh's coast with 150 mph winds killed at least 242 people, levelled homes and forced the evacuation of 650,000 villagers before heading inland and losing power today, officials said.

Tropical Cyclone Sidr roared across the country's southwestern coast late Thursday with driving rain and high waves. Most of the dead were killed by falling debris, according to Nahid Sultana, an official at a cyclone control room in the capital, Dhaka.

Downpours and staggering winds also spawned a water surge four feet high that swept through low-lying areas and some offshore islands, leaving them under water, she said.

By early Friday, the cyclone had weakened into a tropical storm and was moving across the country to the northeast, the department said, adding that while skies remained overcast, wind speed had fallen to 37 mph.

The cyclone flattened thousands of flimsy straw and mud huts, uprooted trees, electricity and telephone poles, and destroyed crops and fish farms in 15 coastal districts, local government officials and witnesses said.

The worst hit areas were communities in southern Bangladesh where most of the victims were killed by falling trees or debris from collapsing homes, while some drowned after falling off boats, Sultana said.

Much of the region remained without electricity and phone lines today, while blocked roads, rails and rivers left many areas cut off.

Power and communications in the capital, Dhaka, were also down. Strong winds uprooted trees, snapped power and telecommunication lines and sent billboards flying through the air, injuring several people, said Ashraful Zaman, another official at the cyclone control room.

At least 650,000 coastal villagers moved Thursday to cyclone shelters where they were given emergency rations, Ali Imam Majumder, a senior government official, told reporters in Dhaka.

Authorities dispatched dry foods, medicines, tents and blankets to the affected areas, he said.

Government and volunteer agencies sent relief and medical teams to the affected areas.

Operations remained suspended at the country's two main seaports — Chittagong and Mongla, while ferry services and flights were yet to resume in the coastal region, authorities said.

The storm spared India's eastern coast, where the weather was calm Friday. India's Meteorological Department had forecast heavy rain and flooding in West Bengal and Orissa states.

Bangladesh, a low-lying delta nation, is prone to seasonal cyclones and floods that cause huge losses of life and property. The coastal area borders eastern India and is famous for the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans, a world heritage site that is home to rare Royal Bengal Tigers.