Cyclone Aila Lashes Eastern India, Bangladesh

India's Army has been mobilized in the aftermath of a cyclone that has hit West Bengal and Bangladesh. But the death toll - at least 65 in Bangladesh and 29 in eastern India - is relatively small compared to past such powerful storms that have struck the region. Although the number of casualties appear to be low, the cyclone has stranded or sent to shelters hundreds of thousands of people.

Cyclone Aila, with winds speeds up to 100 kilometers per hour, unleashed a four-meter high tidal surge and flooded low-lying regions. The storm is especially devastating for farmers in both India and Bangladesh who were preparing to harvest rice and other crops.  In the Indian state of West Bengal, state officials say several thousand thatched and mud houses have been destroyed.

Relief camps set up

Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee visited a few of the 100 relief camps quickly established.

The chief minister says the Army has been mobilized to assist with rescue and relief operations in the worst affected areas of West Bengal. He adds military helicopters are dropping food packets.

Transportation grinds to stop

The cyclone came within 50 kilometers of the state capital, Kolkata, where transportation and utility systems were paralyzed.  Official describe it as the worst storm to hit Kolkata in 20 years. But the city is quickly getting back to normal with a clean-up under way to remove debris, including hundreds of uprooted trees and power poles.

Rivers flowed over mud embankments in the Sundarbans Delta, in which the world's largest tiger reserve is located. Conservationists are expressing concern about the fate of 500 tigers which live in the mangrove forests straddling both sides of the India-Bangladesh border.

Bangladesh reports casualties

Most of the human casualties reported are across the border in Bangladesh. Aid agencies say they fear the final death toll will be in the hundreds. Officials there say a half million residents of coastal areas were forced by the storm to evacuate their homes.

Bangladesh's Army, Navy and Coast Guard have joined civil servants and volunteers to search for the missing and rescue the marooned, some of whom are standing in water reaching up to their shoulders. 
The Bay of Bengal is frequently devastated by such storms. Cyclone Sidr in November 2007 left more than 3,000 people dead in Bangladesh. And Cyclone Nargis, one year ago, is estimated to have killed nearly 150,000 Burmese.

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