Thursday, May 28, 2009

Storm hits millions in South Asia

A powerful cyclone tore across parts of coastal Bangladesh and eastern India on May 25, triggering tidal surges and flooding that killed nearly 200 people and left millions marooned by floodwater or forced to take refuge in shelters.

Officials in both South Asian countries said they feared the death toll from Cyclone Aila would rise, despite intensifying relief and rescue efforts.

Army, navy and coastguards helped civil officials and volunteers search for the missing and pick up people marooned in hundreds of villages, caught in chest or shoulder-high waters.

The authorities in Bangladesh moved some half a million people to temporary shelters after they fled their homes to escape huge tidal waves churned by winds of up to 100 kph (60 mph).

Heavy rain triggered by the storm also raised river levels and burst mud embankments in the Sundarbans delta in the neighbouring Indian state of West Bengal. The affected area is home to hundreds of thousands of people as well as the world's biggest tiger reserve.

Many of the dead drowned, were killed when their houses collapsed or were crushed by uprooted trees. Witnesses said many survivors faced a shortage of food and drinking water.

The cyclone destroyed large areas of crops in both countries. Storm surges washed away dozens of shrimp farms and inundated rice fields in Bangladesh, which is battered by storms every year.

Aila ripped through many areas still recovering from Cyclone Sidr in November 2007, which killed 3,500 people in Bangladesh and left at least a million homeless.

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