30 May 2009

Cyclone Aila death toll rises to 264

More than 500,000 left homeless by storm that battered India, Bangladesh

Hundreds of thousands of people flooded out of their homes by deadly Cyclone Aila were crowding government shelters in eastern India and Bangladesh on Friday. The death toll from Monday's cyclone rose to 264 people in the two countries. And officials say the risk of disease outbreaks is growing in the aftermath. A senior official in West Bengal state's Emergency Relief Department says the cyclone left 500,000 homeless in India. More than 130,000 are crowded in government-run camps. Relief officials are using aircraft and boats to deliver food, water and medicine to others sheltering in schools, office buildings or friends' homes. Bangladesh's Food and Disaster Management Ministry has stopped announcing the number of displaced people, but on Friday said several thousand people were still in shelters. Fears for local wildlife Conservationists have expressed concern over the fate of one of the world's largest populations of tigers that live in a tangle of mangrove forests in the Sundarbans in West Bengal state. At least one tiger from the flooded reserve took refuge in a house. Forest guards tranquillized it and planned to release it once the waters subside, said Belinda Wright of the Wildlife Protection Society of India, which assisted in the operation. It is believed about 250 tigers live on the Indian side of the Sundarbans and another 250 live on the Bangladeshi side. Conservationists said water levels were too high for ecologists and forest officials to enter the area and assess the damage. Officials said water sources will likely have been contaminated by salt from the sea.

HONG KONG — A cyclone that tore into southern Bangladesh and eastern India on Wednesday has killed at least 191 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless, according to relief workers and news agencies. The death toll was expected to rise as rescuers reached rural villages cut off by flood waters. The Food and Disaster Management Ministry said Cyclone Aila had killed 113 people in Bangladesh, and a government official in West Bengal state in India put the number of dead at 78, some of whom had been killed overnight by mudslides. In India alone, about 2.3 million people were affected or stranded in flooded villages, The Associated Press reported. Storm surges in coastal areas of Bangladesh were particularly deadly, disaster officials said, as nearly half a million people sought refuge in temporary shelters. Fishing boats also were damaged and vast areas of rice paddies and cropland were flooded with salty seawater. Nijhum Dwip, a low-lying coastal island with 25,000 residents, was reportedly submerged. “We’re quite worried about this island, because reports are coming in that houses and fields have been totally washed away,” said Nick Southern, the Bangladesh country director for the aid agency Care. “We are trying to get there today by boat, but the cyclone has made travel almost impossible.” In India, video reports from the city of Calcutta showed snapped power lines, uprooted trees and roofs being torn from houses and commercial buildings. The heavy rains also caused massive mudslides in the Darjeeling tea district, where more than 20 people had died, the A.P. reported. The cyclone also lashed the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest and a Unesco World Heritage Site that straddles the India-Bangladesh border. The area is an important home to the Royal Bengal tiger, and The A.P. reported that at least one tiger retreated from the rising waters into a home. Game wardens tranquilized the tiger and planned to release it after the flooding subsided. The same area was struck in 2007 by Cyclone Sidar. More than 3,500 people died in that storm and 2 million more were displaced.