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23 dead, 500,000 flee as cyclone hits Bangladesh

COX BAZAR: Bangladeshi villagers make their way to shelter in Cox’s Bazar yesterday as Cyclone Roanu approached. — AFP
COX BAZAR: Bangladeshi villagers make their way to shelter in Cox’s Bazar yesterday as Cyclone Roanu approached. — AFP

CHITTAGONG: Cyclone Roanu struck the Bangladesh coast yesterday killing six people and forcing hundreds of thousands more to flee their homes as the storm unleashed strong winds and heavy downpours. Authorities took more than 500,000 people into shelters as the cyclone made landfall just after noon local time (0600 GMT), packing winds as strong as 88 kilometers per hour.

“It has struck the southern coastal areas of Barisal and Chittagong with a wind speed of 62-88 kilometers per hour,” Omar Faruq, a government meteorological department official told AFP. “The landfall began just after noon. It will take another three-four hours to complete the landfall,” he added. Several villages were inundated on the Banshkhali coast in Chittagong after the cyclone triggered a five-feet storm surge, the Red Cross’s cyclone preparedness official Ruhul Amin told AFP.

“Thousands of villagers were forced to flee their homes after the storm surge flooded their villages,” he said. It came after the peripheral wind of the cyclone struck coastal areas early yesterday morning, causing widespread devastation across the impoverished region. Six people perished and hundreds of mud-and-tin houses were damaged in two southern districts, police said.

“A mother and her young child were killed after a landslide buried their hillside home at Sitakundu in Chittagong. The landslide was caused by heavy rains,” Shah Alam, a police inspector told AFP, adding that another child died in the Chittagong city. Two others were killed in Tajmuddin town on Bhola island in the coastal region while a woman in her 50s died under a flattened house in nearby Patuakhali, police said.

Thousands of homes were being evacuated as the cyclone bore down. “So far we have moved more than 500,000 people to cyclone shelters,” Reaz Ahmed, the head of Bangladesh’s Disaster Management Department told AFP. Disaster authorities have shut down sea and river ports and ordered fishing trawlers not to go out, while the meteorological department warned of landslides in southeastern hill districts. Officials told AFP Friday night that they were prepared to move more than two million people to nearly 4,000 cyclone shelters in the country’s south.

Textile factory fire

In other news, a fire in a textile factory in Dhaka yesterday killed three workers and left five injured, police said, in the latest accident to cast a spotlight on the country’s hazardous garment industry. A Pakistani technician was among those killed in the blaze in the sprawling complex belonging to fabric manufacturer Mom Tex in Narsingdi, just outside the capital Dhaka. Police officials said the fire started on the ground floor of a seven-storey building where chemicals and dyes were stored, trapping workers who were resting before their shift.

“Three workers who were resting near the chemical storage unit have died of suffocation and burns,” police inspector Shahidur Rahman told AFP. “At least five workers were also injured and were rushed to a hospital,” he said. Firefighters brought the blaze under control in around two hours, Narsingdi police chief Amena Begum told AFP.

A company official confirmed the deaths to AFP. “We suspect the electricity short-circuited, causing a fire in the storage room where dyes and paints were kept,” Nazmul Islam, a deputy general manager of Mom Tex said. “The workers who were resting in the upper floors died due to suffocation from smoke,” he said.

Fires and other accidents are common in the factories that make up the $27-billion garment industry in Bangladesh, the world’s second-biggest apparel exporter after China. In November 2012, at least 111 workers were killed when a devastating fire engulfed a nine-storey garment factory in the Ashulia industrial area, outside the capital Dhaka.

The accident was followed by an even bigger tragedy six months later when 1,138 people died after another clothing factory complex collapsed, trapping over 3,000 workers. But the incidence of fires has declined in recent years after two groups of global apparel brands and the Bangladesh government began to push through crucial safety reforms in the nation’s 4,500 garment factories. Set up in 2012, Mom Tex is part of the Pakiza group of companies, one of the nation’s largest sari and fabric makers catering largely to the domestic market. – AFP

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