DHAKA: Cyclone Mora hit Bangladesh Tuesday, packing winds of up to 135 kilometres (84 miles) per hour, damaging thousands of homes as more than 300,000 people fled coastal villages.
The severe storm made landfall on the coast between Cox’s Bazar and the main port city of Chittagong at 0000 GMT, the Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD) said.
No immediate casualties were reported but there was major damage in many towns and villages.
Authorities evacuated more than 300,000 people to cyclone shelters after raising the highest number 10 weather danger alert as the storm approached. Authorities had planned to make one million people leave their villages.
“They have been evacuated to at least 400 cyclone shelters, schools and government offices in the coastal areas,” said Golam Mostofa, the senior official coordinating the evacuation.
Mostofa said there were no reports of casualties so far.
But there are fears for the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who are living in flimsy shanty homes after fleeing violence or persecution in neighbouring Myanmar.
There are 300,000 Muslim Rohingya living in and around Cox’s Bazar district, where one official said the storm has caused widespread damage.
Community leader Abdus Salam said there had been no attempt to evacuate them to cyclone shelters.
“Around 20,000 houses in the Rohingya refugee camps have been damaged by the storm,” he told foreign media agencies.
“In some places, almost every shanty home made of tin, bamboo and plastic has been flattened. Some people were injured, but no one is dead.”
Anwarul Naser, a senior district official, said several thousand houses had been damaged in the area, most of them mud-built structures.
He said efforts to assess the full extent of the damage had been hampered by disruption to telecoms links.
The weather office has said the cyclone could unleash a five-foot (1.7 metre) high storm surge around Cox’s Bazar, Chittagong and several other coastal districts on the Bay of Bengal which are home to millions of people.
“It hit Saint Martin’s Island with wind speed of 114 kilometres per hour and Teknaf at 135 kilometres per hour,” BMD director Shamsuddin Ahmed told reporters.
The local administration has called in all fishing vessels and advised them to remain anchored, while the Chittagong port authority has stopped all traffic in and out of the port.
All flights were suspended to and from Chittagong international airport and the Cox’s Bazar airports.
Bangladesh is routinely hit by bad storms between April and December that cause deaths and widespread property damage.
In May last year, Cyclone Roanu hit the southern coast of Bangladesh leaving 20 people dead and forcing half a million to flee their homes.
In 2007 Cyclone Sidr killed nearly 4,000 people and caused damages worth billions of dollars.
Flash floods and excessive rain led to landslides in hilly areas, which caused most of the casualties.
“But this time we are more prepared,” disaster management authority spokesman Abul Hashim said.
In neighbouring India, the National Disaster Management Authority advised fishermen in the eastern coastal state of West Bengal to remain in port.
It also warned of strong winds across much of the northeast of the country.