The Heat Is Online

South Asia Cyclone Toll Could Exceed 120 Deaths

Cyclone kills at least 191 in India, Bangladesh

 

Millions reportedly stranded in flooding; fate of 500 tigers unknown

 

The Associated Press, May 27, 2009

CALCUTTA, India - Heavy rains caused deadly mudslides and slowed rescue efforts Wednesday after Cyclone Aila pounded eastern India and Bangladesh, killing at least 191 people.

The cyclone destroyed thousands of homes and stranded millions of people in flooded villages before it began to ease Tuesday. The death toll will likely rise in both countries as rescue workers reach cut-off areas.

Mudslides in India's famed Darjeeling tea district killed at least 22 people overnight, said Asim Dasgupta, the finance minister of the worst-affected West Bengal state in India.

The official death toll in India stood at 78 by Wednesday, Dasgupta told reporters, adding about 2.3 million people were affected or stranded in flooded villages.

Bangladesh's Food and Disaster Management Ministry said the toll there was 113 after more bodies were found. Most victims drowned or were washed away when storm surges hit coastal areas.

Soldiers have been deployed to take food, water and medicine to hundreds of thousands of people stranded in flooded villages, Bangladeshi Minister Abdur Razzak told reporters Wednesday. In India rescuers evacuated more than 41,000 people by Wednesday, Dasgupta said.

At least 500,000 villagers were affected or stranded, mostly by flash floods caused by tidal surges, said Ziaul Alam, the local administrator in Bangladesh's Khulna district.

Fears over fate of tigers

The cyclone also caused damage in the Sundarbans, a tangle of mangrove forests that is home to one of the world's largest tiger populations.

Conservationists expressed concern over the tigers' fate.

At least one tiger from the flooded reserve took refuge in a house. Forest guards tranquilized it and were planning to release it once the waters subside, said Belinda Wright of the Wildlife Protection Society of India, which assisted in the operation.

It is believed about 250 tigers live on the Indian side of the Sundarbans and another 250 live on the Bangladeshi side.

Conservationists in India said water levels were too high for ecologists and forest officials to enter the area and assess the extent of the damage.

N.C. Bahuguna, a senior Indian conservation official, said water sources were likely contaminated by salt water from the sea.

Abani Bhushan Thakur, a local forest department official in Bangladesh, said there were no reports of damage or casualties in their part of the Sundarbans mangrove forests.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30930221/

Scores killed as cyclone hits South Asia

 

Tens of thousands stranded in flooded villages; fate of 500 tigers unknown

 

The Associated Press, May 26, 2009

 

CALCUTTA, India - Cyclone Aila lashed low-lying areas in eastern India and Bangladesh, destroying thousands of homes, stranding tens of thousands of people in flooded villages and killing at least 73 before it began to ease Tuesday.

 

Conservationists expressed concern over the fate of one of the world's largest tiger populations, which was in the path of the storm.

Aila tore down nearly 3,000 thatched and mud houses and uprooted a large number of trees in nearly 300 villages across India's West Bengal state, said Kanti Ganguly, a state minister. He said 34 people were killed in West Bengal.

 

Storm surges hit coastal areas in neighboring Bangladesh, killing at least 39 people, according to Food and Disaster Management Ministry in Dhaka. It said most victims drowned or were washed away by the waves.

 

The country's leading newspaper, Prothom Alo, said tens of thousands of people were stranded as waters submerged their homes. It said 6-foot- (2-meter-) high waves crashed into the area, breaching dozens of flood protection embankments across the coastal region about 85 miles (135 kilometers) southwest of Dhaka.

 

News reports indicated the death toll could be as high as 123 in the two countries.

 

With the storm weakening overnight, authorities restored train and air services and reopened schools in most parts of West Bengal state on Tuesday, Indian officials said. Ganguly said soldiers were deployed on Monday night to evacuate stranded villagers.

 

Tigers' fate?

 

During the height of the storm, several rivers burst their banks inside the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve, said Khalil Ahmed, the area's district magistrate. It is believed about 250 tigers live on the Indian side of the Sundarbans, a tangle of mangrove forests, and another 250 live on the Bangladeshi side.

 

It was difficult to assess the damage because water levels were too high for ecologists and forest officials to go into the area, said Mrinal Chatterjee, project director of the Institute of Nature Lovers and Climbers, an environmental group that works in the Sundarbans. But he said tigers were likely affected because flooding had contaminated their supplies of fresh water.

 

Thousands of residents were evacuated from the reserve.

The wave of rain began to hit India's northeast on Tuesday, but the Indian Meteorological Department expected the storm to weaken into a deep depression.

 

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

 

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30930221/