A powerful cyclone has battered Bangladesh, causing the evacuation of hundreds of thousands. Local media reports say as many as 1,100 people were killed. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, officials say advance preparation saved many lives, in a country accustomed to natural disasters.
Officials say the cyclone crashed into the country's southern coast Thursday night with winds of up to 240 kilometers an hour, triggering huge waves.
Many villages were devastated as the winds uprooted trees and flattened homes. Torrential rain and waves washed away crops. Officials say many of the victims were killed by falling trees or debris from collapsing homes.
Shail Shrestha, program coordinator for the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Dhaka, said preliminary reports indicate that the devastation is widespread.
"Phone lines are cut and communication system is very much disrupted, said Shrestha. "Agriculture products are badly damaged and livestock are also badly damaged."
The worst of the storm was over by early Friday. This made it possible for government and volunteer teams to dispatch relief teams carrying food, water, medicines, and tents for the people in the affected districts.
Although the storm has caused considerable destruction, officials say a mass evacuation ordered in advance helped save many lives.
Hundreds of thousands of coastal villagers were evacuated into government-built cyclone shelters and other buildings as the storm approached.
The shelters were built after the low-lying country suffered massive casualties in previous cyclones. A storm that hit the country in 1970 killed about half a million people. Another cyclone in 1991 killed more than 130,000.
Chittagong is one of the districts that lay in the path of the storm. A senior district official, Mokhlesur Rahman, says the region was spared large-scale casualties.
"We did evacuate a lot of people into different cyclone shelters, some in educational institutions," said Rahman. "It was of much help, evacuation…. Now they are going back home."
India's east coast was also bracing for the cyclone, but so far it has escaped the storm's fury. Authorities reported that several areas were hit by heavy rain, but there was little damage.