Hurricane strikes Khulna-Barisal coast.

FROM LEFT… Satellite image taken at 12:47am today shows Sidr over the Khulna-Barisal region; women and children of Laldiar Char near Patenga in Chittagong scamper to safety after Great Danger Signal-9 was hoisted there yesterday. Photo: Weather.com/Star

Hurricane Sidr hit the coastal districts, particularly Khulna and Barisal, as it started crossing the country from northern Bay of Bengal last evening with high tidal surge and strong winds of over 200km per hour.

Exact figure of losses of lives and properties could not be known immediately. But it was reported that one body was recovered after a boat with 15 passengers capsized in Kholapatua river near Noabeki ghat in Shyamnagar upazila of Satkhira. Three passengers were still missing as of 9:30pm yesterday.

Hundreds of thousands of people, especially those living in coastal zone, were evacuated in the last two days.

The Met office asked the Mongla Port to continue showing great danger signal-10, under which also came adjoining 11 districts. Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar maritime ports and adjoining six districts were under great danger signal-9.

Seven ships of Bangladesh Navy, including three frigates, were brought to the Mongla naval base from Chittagong yesterday morning. Bangladesh Army opened a control room for rescue operations.

Zia International Airport authorities were asked to operate flights with caution.

Operations at Chittagong Port and Shah Amanat International Airport were also kept suspended.

All districts and upazila administration, law enforcement agencies and the joint forces, and offices of disaster management, relief and rehabilitation and Red Crescent monitored the cyclone situation round the clock.

Power supply to the southern districts was snapped in the evening and could not be restored as of 1:00am.

Strong winds also started blowing with occasional drizzling in the capital since 11:00pm. The hurricane was crossing the capital around 1:00am.

Electricity supply was snapped in the capital too as transformers malfunctioned at many places. Gusty winds uprooted trees and roadside billboards and broke electric cables.

The speed of the storm with 74km of radius was in a range between 220km and 240km. Strong winds had started lashing on the coastal zones since yesterday afternoon, uprooting trees and ripping off roofs of houses, our correspondents reported.

Met officials said the category-5 hurricane (on a scale of 5) made landfall, crossing Khulna and Barisal coasts near the Baleswar river around 7:30pm with winds of over 210km an hour. The cyclone was still crossing land at 10:00pm and would take another few hours to completely cross the country, according to the Met office.

Before the hurricane hit ashore, black clouds had covered the sky and gusty wind and rain had increased in the coastal region. Overall weather condition deteriorated while power supply and telecommunications were disrupted in many areas, our correspondents report.

“The hurricane is strong like those in 1970 and 1991, but this time we got a lot of time for preparations. So, we think there will not be many casualties although minimising losses of properties will not be possible,” Met office Director Samarendra Karmakar told journalists.

The government has announced red alert in the coastal zone and taken necessary preparations to face the disaster. Maritime ports of Mongla and coastal districts Bhola, Barisal, Patuakhali, Barguna, Pirojpur, Jhalakathi, Bagerhat, Khulna, Satkhira and Jessore and their offshore islands and chars will remain under great danger signal-10.

Chittagong, Cox’s Bazar, Noakhali, Feni, Laxmipur, Chandpur and their offshore islands were asked to hoist great danger signal-9.

Steps were taken to evacuate people from the danger zones to safer places like cyclone shelters, high-rise buildings, public and private houses. Food and water were supplied for them.

Chittagong office reported that the authorities evacuated around two lakh people to 368 cyclone shelters.

Relief and rescue operation items, food, medicine, cooking and lighting materials were also collected for emergency. Educational institutions in these districts were closed while people’s movement was discouraged.

Tidal surges 15-20 feet above normal tide inundated the low-lying areas, including Dublar Char, Nijhum Dwip, St Martin’s Island, Shah Pori Char, Kochikhali and Kotka, in these coastal districts. However, all inhabitants could not be evacuated from these places.

Sources in Khulna zone police and forest department said at least 1,000 fishermen in Dublarchar did not agree to evacuate leaving their valuables.

According to reports from Cox’s Bazar, around 300 fishing trawlers with around 1,000 fishermen remained missing as of last night. Over 100 tourists, including a foreigner, were stranded on the St Martin’s Island. Naval communications with Teknaf to St Martin’s remained snapped for the last two days.

Our correspondents from coastal districts said several hundred thousand people were shifted to cyclone shelter centres. Nearly 10 million people live in the coastal zone which usually face cyclone every year.

Major rivers in the region meanwhile started swelling again as water level increased by 50cm on an average nearing the danger level.

Port authorities stopped plying of all types of vessels including launch and ferry on 28 inner routes of Barisal, 21 routes of Patuakhali, 13 routes of Barguna, 14 routes of Bhola and coastal services on five Barisal-Bhola-Laxmipur-Chittagong routes.

The internal river port authorities hoisted great danger signal-4 for the river ports. They said the triple-deck vessels that had left Barisal port on Wednesday night were called back midway.

Operations at the river ports will not be possible to resume until the cyclone crosses the area and weather condition improves, port authority sources said.

Tourists left Kuakata beach as local authorities and Red Crescent volunteers evacuated people from the coast to highland and high-rise buildings.

Many chars and islands already went under three-four feet of water and many people looking for shelters became panicked as they became isolated from main land, they added.

Sources at Kuakata said tidal wave eight-10 feet higher than normal tide hit the shore. Fishermen were asked to take safe shelter or stay anchored.

Our Patuakhali correspondent reports: Thousands of acres of Aman paddy fields in seven upazilas were damaged as tidal surge inundated the fields. Lowlands in Kalapara, Galachipa, Dashmina, Baufal, Mirzaganj were flooded with around three feet of tidal waters.

The district administration opened 210 shelters while the relief ministry allocated 1,000 pieces of blankets, 450 tents and Tk 50,000 for Patuakhali, district relief and rehabilitation office sources said.

Our Satkhira correspondent reports: More than 50,000 people from the coastal zone took shelter as gusty wind with torrential rainfall continued in the district.

A total of 116 medical teams and hundreds of Red Crescent volunteers were working to combat the situation.

The Mongla port authorities opened three control rooms to monitor the situation, reports our Khulna correspondent.

Reports from Bhola said inhabitants of 14 chars were evacuated as water level in the Meghna increased by at least five feet, making the town protection embankment vulnerable.

Several hundreds of tin-shed and thatched houses in Charfashion upazila in Bhola were destroyed and a huge number of trees were uprooted as the hurricane swept across the district. Tidal waves from the Meghna entered Charmadraj breaking the protection embankment.

In a press release, World Food Programme (WFP) said they made extensive preparations, deploying response teams in Southwest Bangladesh to strengthen its local management. With the support of DFID, the WFP has created an operational alliance with 38 NGOs, including other UN agencies.

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