Bangladesh Braces for Cyclone Remal with Mass Evacuations

Sun May 26 2024
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DHAKA, Bangladesh: Tens of thousands of Bangladeshis evacuated their coastal villages on Sunday, seeking safety in concrete storm shelters as Cyclone Remal approached.

The cyclone is expected to make landfall on the southern coast and parts of neighboring India by Sunday evening. The Bangladesh Meteorological Department predicts the storm will bring crashing waves and winds gusting up to 130 kilometers per hour (81 miles per hour).

Over the past decades, cyclones have caused significant loss of life in Bangladesh. The frequency of these superstorms has increased, rising from one per year to as many as three due to climate change. Senior weather official Muhammad Abul Kalam Mallik warned that the cyclone could trigger a storm surge of up to 12 feet (four meters), posing a severe threat to coastal villages that are only a meter or two above sea level.

Authorities have issued the highest-level danger signal, prohibiting fishermen from going to sea and ordering evacuations in high-risk areas. The government’s disaster management secretary, Kamrul Hasan, stated that the plan is to relocate hundreds of thousands of people to cyclone shelters. Approximately 4,000 shelters have been prepared along the Bay of Bengal coast, covering a 220-kilometer stretch from India’s Sagar Island to Khepupara in Bangladesh.

During the evacuation efforts, a ferry carrying over 50 passengers—double its capacity—was overwhelmed by rough waters and sank near Mongla, a port along the cyclone’s expected path. Thirteen people were injured and taken to a hospital, with other boats rescuing the remaining passengers.

Authorities have mobilized tens of thousands of volunteers to assist with the evacuations and alert residents to the impending danger. Helal Mahmud Sharif, the chief government administrator of Khulna province, reported that 20,000 people had been moved to shelters in the most vulnerable coastal areas. Additionally, 15,000 people and around 400 animals were evacuated in the Patuakhali and Bhola districts.

Preparations have also been made on Bhashan Char island, home to 36,000 Rohingya refugees, where 57 cyclone centers have been readied. The country’s three seaports and the airport in Chittagong, the second-largest city, have been closed.

India’s Kolkata airport was closed from noon Sunday until Monday morning, with beaches in the area also ordered shut due to predicted heavy winds and rainfall.

While climate change is contributing to the increase in storm frequency, improved forecasting and evacuation planning have significantly reduced the death toll. Historical cyclones, like the Great Bhola Cyclone in 1970, resulted in massive casualties, but recent events like Cyclone Mocha in May 2023 and Cyclone Hamoon in October 2023 have demonstrated better management, despite still causing displacement and fatalities.

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