In Bangladesh: 650,000 Evacuated Before Cyclone Hit
November 21, 2007
On the evening of Thursday, November 15, the cyclone in the Bay of Bengal that weather monitors had been tracking nervously for two days as it increased in intensity reached the coast of Bangladesh with a fury. Cyclone Sidr battered the coast with 150-mile per hour winds and a tidal surge that lifted waters ten feet or more higher than normal, submerging lands that lie inches above sea level, uprooting mangrove forests, and sweeping away fragile homes, crops, and the lives of human and animal victims who failed to reach shelter as the storm arrived in the cloak of darkness.
As the cyclone subsided in the dawn hours, television news carried shocking images of the destruction wrought by the cyclone in accessible areas, while rescue teams struggled to reach remote communities in the mangrove forests of the Sundarban region that were most exposed and worst hit. The official death toll has crossed 3,000 and may increase as rescue efforts continue. More than 4 million people have been affected by the cyclone, losing homes and property, livestock, and rice and other crops that were nearly ready for the winter harvest. Relief efforts mounted by government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the international community are now racing to provide safe water, food, medicine, clothes, and other essential supplies to communities along the coast, while plans take shape for the longer process of recovery and restoration of a shattered infrastructure.
While the suffering experienced by those who lost loved ones, homes, livelihoods, and modest possessions is a tragedy by any measure, the positive news that emerges in relative terms is that advances in emergency preparedness since the last major cyclonic storms claimed 140,000 lives on the coast in 1991 and 300,000 in 1971 helped to avert potential tragedy on a similar scale. Eyewitness accounts suggest that Sidr was the most violent cyclone in living memory. Satellite storm tracking provided adequate notice as the cyclone approached, and the government and NGO warning networks sent signals out across the coastal zone for people to abandon their homes and seek shelter in the purpose-built concrete shelters on piers that now line the coastal region or wherever they could. More than 650,000 were evacuated to safety, hinting at the scale of lives saved that a decade ago might have been lost to the cyclone.
While the millions affected face a tremendous challenge in rebuilding homes, fragile agricultural and fishing livelihoods, small businesses, and infrastructure, they are alive and ready to focus the extraordinary Bangladeshi resilience on the rebuilding effort.
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Kim McQuay is The Asia Foundation’s Country Representative in Bangladesh.
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