Cyclone churns toward Bangladesh as Sri Lanka flood toll rises to 177

Cyclone churns toward Bangladesh as Sri Lanka flood toll rises to 177

May 30, 2017
Sri Lankan residents look on from a shop surrounded by floodwaters in Nagoda in Kalutara district on Monday. — AFP
Sri Lankan residents look on from a shop surrounded by floodwaters in Nagoda in Kalutara district on Monday. — AFP

DHAKA/AGALAWATTE, Sri Lanka —  An intensifying cyclone churned north towards Bangladesh on Monday after heavy rain in Sri Lanka and thunderstorms in eastern India killed more than 200 people, with more torrential downpours forecast.

Impoverished Bangladesh, hit by cyclones every year, warned that some low-lying coastal areas were “likely to be inundated by a storm surge of four to five feet (1.2 to 1.5 meters)” above normal and raised the storm danger signal, on a scale of one to 10, to seven.

Cyclone Mora was expected to make landfall on Tuesday morning.

Floods and landslides in tropical Sri Lanka, off India’s southern tip, have killed at least 177 people in recent days, authorities said, with 24 killed in storms in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, either by lightning strikes or under collapsed village huts.

India warned of heavy rain in the northeastern states of Tripura, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh as Mora moved further up the Bay of Bengal.

Floods reached roof level and cut off access to many rural Sri Lankan villages, disrupting life for half a million people, many of them workers on rubber plantations, officials said.

Villagers in Agalawatte, in a key rubber-growing area 74 km southeast of the capital, Colombo, said they were losing hope of water levels falling soon after the heaviest rain since 2003. Fifty-three villagers died and 58 were missing. “All access to our village is cut off. A landslide took place inside the village and several houses are buried,” Mohomed Abdulla, 46, said.

Some areas in the southern coastal district of Galle, popular with foreign tourists, have not received relief due to lack of access.

“My entire village is cut off and nobody can come to this village,” C.M. Chandrapla, 54, said by phone from the tourist village of Neluwa.

“There have been no supplies for the past two days. Water has gone above three-story buildings and people survive by running to higher ground.”

Bangladesh is hit by storms, many of them devastating, every year. Half a million people had their lives disrupted in low-lying coastal areas such as Barisal and Chittagong in May last year.

It is still recovering from flash floods that hit the northeast, affecting millions of people, in April. Rice prices have reached record highs and state reserves are at 10-year lows in the wake of flooding that wiped out around 700,000 tons of rice.

Authorities will relocate thousands from coastal areas before Mora hits, officials said. About 10 million of Bangladesh’s population of 160 million live in low-lying coastal areas.

“We have taken all sorts of steps to minimize any losses, including moving people away from the most vulnerable areas,” Kazi Adbur Rahman, a senior government official in Cox’s Bazaar, told Reuters by telephone.

The Sri Lankan military has sent in helicopters and boats in rescue efforts in the most widespread disaster since the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. About 100 people were missing in total.

The meteorology department forecast torrential rains over the next 36 hours. Residents in seven densely populated districts in the south and center of Sri Lanka were asked to move away from unstable slopes in case of further landslides. — Reuters


May 30, 2017
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