Khan Godhuly/AFP/Getty Images
Bangladeshis take shelter at the Chila cyclone shelter near the capital, Dhaka.
Bangladeshis take shelter at the Chila cyclone shelter near the capital, Dhaka. Khan Godhuly/AFP/Getty Images
Millions of Bangladeshis were being evacuated from low-lying areas as Cyclone Sidr nears landfall late Thursday, as the low-lying nation braced for its strongest tropical storm in years.
Sustained winds of 149 mph and an expected storm surge as high as 20 feet were in store for the coastal areas and flood-prone Ganges River delta as the cyclone swept in from the Bay of Bengal, officials said.
Some 3.2 million people were expected to be evacuated in all, Ali Imam Majumder, a senior government official, told reporters in Dhaka.
No damage or casualties were immediately reported, but rescue teams were on standby at a nearby forest office, forest official Mozharul Islam said in Khulna. Communications with remote forest areas and offshore islands were temporarily cut off, so the full impact in those areas was not immediately known. Bangladesh is prone to seasonal cyclones and floods that cause huge losses of life and property.
"We have taken all precautions," Majumder said, adding that rescue and medical teams were on standby.
At least 620,000 people had moved into cyclone shelters, where they were being given emergency rations, he said.
Volunteers helped evacuate villagers to shelters, built of concrete on raised pilings. Some took refuge in "mud forts" built along the coast to resist tidal surges. Schools, mosques and other public buildings were also turned into makeshift shelters.
The eye of the cyclone was expected to make landfall later Thursday, about 85 miles southwest of Dhaka, the capital, said Shahjahan Alam, a Bangladesh Meteorological Department official.
The Meteorological Department put the country's three major maritime ports — Chittagong, Mongla and Cox's Bazar — on the highest level of alert. Ferry service and flights were halted across the coastal region.
Ships were warned to return to shore. Many of the fishing boats in the region's coastal waters put down anchor at nearby shoals and islets that dot the South Asian country's shoreline.
The sea resort of Cox's Bazar was deserted after Wednesday's warning. Dozens of tourists were stranded in the offshore coral atoll of St. Martin as rough seas forced cruise boats and ships to stay ashore.
From NPR reports and The Associated Press