Hundreds of thousands evacuated ahead of Bangladesh cyclone

Cyclone forces mass evacs

With a strong cyclone approaching Bangladesh on Saturday, authorities used more than 50,000 volunteers and officials to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people to shelters across the low-lying delta nation's vast coastal region.

More than 300,000 people had already moved to safer places and up to 1.8 million were expected to be evacuated by the evening, said Enamur Rahman, Bangladesh's junior disaster management minister.

Cyclone Bulbul was moving over the Bay of Bengal and was expected to hit the country's southern coast at around midnight. More than 5,000 shelters had been prepared by Saturday morning.

Ayesha Khatun, a deputy director of the Meteorological Department, said in the evening that the impact of the cyclone was already being felt, with rain starting to fall in the region.

The weather office in Dhaka, the capital, issued the most severe storm signal for Bulbul, which was packing maximum sustained winds of 74 km/h and gusts of up to 150 km/h.

It said the southwestern Khulna region could be the worst hit. The region has the world's largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans, which straddles the Bangladesh-India border.

The weather office said coastal districts were likely to be inundated by storm surges of 1 1/2-2 metres above normal tide because of the impact of the cyclone.

Several ships from Bangladesh's navy and coast guard were kept ready in parts of the region for an emergency response, said the domestic TV station Independent.

The storm is also expected to impact parts of northeastern India, where precautions were also being taken.

According to U.S.-based AccuWeather Inc., Bulbul strengthened from a deep depression into a tropical cyclone on Thursday morning, and by Friday afternoon had strengthened into a severe cyclone.

With winds around 130-140 km/h, Bulbul was the equivalent of a Category 1 or 2 hurricane in the Atlantic.

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