Cyclone Sitrang has crossed the coast of Bangladesh between Barishal and Chattogram with a deadly wind speed of up to 90 km per hour, ripping off trees and utility poles as it took aim at millions on its path into the country.
Bangladesh Meteorological Department asked the maritime ports to lower the warning from danger signal to cautionary signal No. 3 as the storm weakened to a land depression after crossing the coast on Monday midnight.
Meteorologist Abul Kalam Mollick said around 2am on Tuesday the land depression is likely to move in a northeasterly direction to India’s Assam via Cumilla and Brahmanbaria while weakening further.
The coastal districts experienced storm tides and heavy rain as the cyclone with a diameter of 400-500 km already affected the coastal region in the evening. Central regions as far as Dhaka were experiencing incessant rains.
Khulna, Satkhira, Bagerhat, Patuakhali, Barguna, Bhola, Pirojpur, Barishal, Jhalakathi, Noakhali, Lakshmipur, Feni, Chandpur, Chattogram, Cox’s Bazar, and the low-lying areas of remote islands got inundated by tides 5-8 feet high above the normal levels.
HOURS OF STRUGGLE
According to the Joint Typhoon Warning Centre, the eye of the storm crossed the coast through Rangabali or Char Montaz in Patuakhli. It took several hours for the entire storm system to be over the land.
The Sundarbans along the border with India saved Bangladesh from major damage during cyclones in the past few years, but this time Sitrang is bearing down on the coastal regions with human habitation.
Bangladesh authorities have evacuated residents from the path of Sitrang, mainly in Barishal division. In 15 coastal districts, more than 219,000 people were evacuated to temporary storm shelters from the path of the storm, the disaster management and relief ministry said.
But at least seven deaths were reported as the storm ploughed through 13 districts – Barguna, Patuakhali, Bhola, Pirojpur, Jhalakathi, Satkhira, Khulna, Bagerhat, Barishal, Lakshmipur, Chandpur, Noakhali and Feni. Barguna and Patuakhali were likely to bear the brunt of the damage the most.
Blackouts hit coastal districts hours before Cyclone Sitrang struck southern Bangladesh, while many areas lost telecom signals.
Power connections to some areas were damaged by fallen trees and the power cuts were enforced in other places as safety precautions.
Long power outages decimated mobile network signals in some areas. Residents of Dhaka said they were unable to reach their relatives in the coastal areas.
All ships at the Chattogram port moved away from the jetties to outer anchorage. The transport and release of goods from domestic and foreign commercial ships at Mongla Port was suspended.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh has suspended all air travel in and out of Cox’s Bazar, Chattogram and Barishal airports, which will remain closed until the situation improves.
Several airlines said they cancelled 60 domestic and three international flights due to the storm.
Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority has halted all river vehicles, including launches, in a nationwide response to Sitrang.
The National University has postponed all exams that were to be held on Tuesday.
All the educational institutions in Chattogram, Barishal and Khulna divisions were shut for Tuesday.
The Inter-Services Public Relations Directorate or ISPR said Bangladesh Navy has kept 17 ships, two maritime patrol aircraft and two helicopters, along with contingents, to conduct rescue and relief operations.
Incessant rains under the influence of the storm caused waterlogging in Dhaka and hit power lines in Dhaka, leading to frequent power cuts in parts of the city.
Residents struggled to get back home through inundated streets as fallen trees hampered traffic and frightened pedestrians.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was monitoring the storm from Dhaka and was receiving reports from the field. She has also given a range of instructions to government ministries, departments and agencies to cope with the impact of the cyclone.
She called on everyone to do all they can to minimise the damage. The prime minister also urged members of the Awami League to do their part and urged all members of parliament to stay in contact with their constituencies so that they receive the latest updates on the situation.
On average, about one cyclone makes landfall in Bangladesh every year, striking the relatively shallow northern portion of the Bay of Bengal, raising the water level more than 10 metres above the mean sea level during “very intense cyclones”, the World Bank said in a September report.
The average annual losses from tropical cyclones alone are estimated at approximately $1 billion, or 0.7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, according to the report. Individual cyclones can result in larger losses.
The agriculture ministry has asked farmers to harvest paddy of the ongoing Aman season if the crops are 80 percent ripe in a move to save them from rains, wind and flooding under the influence of the cyclone.
The ministry also cancelled holidays of all its officials and set up control rooms in local offices to help the farmers tackle the situation.
It ordered officials to make rehabilitation plans in advance by quickly assessing the damage after the storm.
The ministry said sluice gates of the dams in the coastal regions need to be operated carefully to stop salt water from entering the fields or remove it after the storm.