Saturday, June 15, 2024

People rush to cyclone shelters

Thousands of people in Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar have started rushing to safe shelters as Cyclone Mahasen approached the coastal areas of the two districts on Wednesday afternoon. Danger signal No. 7 was hoisted in the afternoon. People living in the coastal areas of Sitakunda, Mirasarai, Anwara and Banshkhali upazilas and 11 wards of the city packed their valuables and rushed towards the cyclone shelters and other safe places after being cautioned by the local administration in the afternoon. Some of the people also took their domestic animals to safe places to save them from the tidal surge during the cyclone.
Harilal Das, a fisherman of the coastal area of Bhatiary union in Sitakunda upazila, said he had not been cautioned in time for the 1991 cyclone. “My house, along with all valuables, was washed away by a tidal surge. We saved our lives by taking shelter in a building. But we’ve become more aware and have taken all precaution to face the disaster this time. We’ve already shifted our valuables to safer places and sent women, children and older people to cyclone shelters”, he added.
Mohammad Shahin Imran, upazila nirbahi officer of Sitakunda, said the authorities started making emergency announcements to prepare people for the cyclone from Wednesday afternoon. “A good number of people have already gathered at the cyclone shelters. We’ll able to evacuate the area by the evening,” he added.
He, however, said that those not willing to move to the cyclone shelters would be forced to do so by the authorities to avoid casualties.
Abdul Mannan, a resident of the Anandabazar area in the city’s Munirnagar ward, said they have made early preparations for the cyclone. “We’ve shifted all women and children to the cyclone shelter. We’re shifting our valuables to safe places in the city,” he added.
The secretary of the Chittagong City Corporation (CCC) said all arrangements have been made to face the cyclone and people have already started gathering at the cyclone shelters. “We’ve arranged transport to bring the people to cyclone shelters and appointed 150 trained workers to provide services at the cyclone shelters,” he added.
Mohammad Reyad, a resident of Banshkhali upazila in Chittagong, said the number of cyclone shelters is not enough, compared to the number of people living in the upazila.
Shabbir Ikbal, upazila nirbahi officer of Banshkhali, said there are 94 cyclone shelters in the upazila and that people of the area have already started gathering there. “If the cyclone shelters get filled up by the evening, we’ll use schools and colleges as safe shelters”, he added.
Our Cox’s Bazar Correspondent added that after the hoisting of danger signal No.7, the people of the district started rushing towards the cyclone shelters with their belongings.
The district administration has taken steps to shift people of low-lying and risky areas of Pekua, Kutubdia, Ukhia, Teknaf and Sadar Upazila to the cyclone shelters.
The industrial belt of Chittagong, particularly heavy industries in the Sitakunda area and the Chittagong Export Processing Zone (CEPZ), Eastern Refinery Limited, General Electric Manufacturing Company Limited (GEMCO), Chittagong Shah Amanat International Airport, many oil industries in the Gupta Khal area of South Patenga are exposed to Cyclone Mahasen.
If the first tropical cyclone in the northern India Ocean, which has been gathering strength as seen in the NASA satellite imagery, hits Chittagong, the industrial belt may be severely affected. A large number of factories from Patenga to Sitakunda will be badly affected too.
Work at the CEPZ, Chittagong Shah Amanat International Airport, Karnaphuli EPZ, GEM Co and  Chittagong Port has been suspended since Wednesday afternoon. The Chittagong Port Authority (CPA) has declared red alert (alert No. 3) after hoisting signal No. 7 on Wednesday noon.
Sayed Forhad Uddin, secretary of the CPA, said: “We’ve directed that all ships be moved to the outer anchorage from the port channel. Besides, trawlers, lighterage and engine boats have been told not to venture into the sea after the hoisting of signal No. 7. We’ve taken measures to ensure safety of the Chittagong port area. We’ve already shifted all ships from our jetties.”
The Chittagong Shah Amanat International Airport authorities have suspended all operations from 4 pm on Wednesday. As a result, all flights that were scheduled to land at the airport have been cancelled.
The Bangladesh Air Force’s Jaharul Haque Base has also taken measures, including shifting of aircraft from the risky coastal areas.
There area more than 400 factories in the Sitakunda industrial belt in Chittagong. They have stopped production from Wednesday afternoon.
Mahabubul Alam, president of the Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI), said: “The city protection embankment is in a bad shape. The long embankment from Patenga to Sitakunda is damaged at many places. The government should take steps to construct the coastal embankment. Tidal surges can severely affect all factories located in the area from Patenga to Sitakunda. Machineries of more than 1,000 big and small industries will be damaged and crores of taka will be lost. So, pray to Allah that we’re saved.”
AFP adds: Hundreds of thousands of people in Bangladesh and Myanmar were ordered to evacuate Wednesday as a cyclone bore down on coastal areas home to flood-prone refugee camps for victims of sectarian unrest. The United Nations has warned that more than eight million people could be at risk from Cyclone Mahasen, which is expected to make landfall on Thursday or Friday somewhere near the border between the two countries.
Bangladesh told hundreds of thousands of people living in low-lying areas to move to cyclone shelters, while Myanmar announced plans to relocate roughly 166,000 people on its northwest coast to safety.
But in Myanmar’s state of Rakhine, many Muslim Rohingya made homeless by communal bloodshed last year said they were too scared to move, reflecting their deep mistrust of the authorities and of local Buddhists.
“We could die here. We have no place to go,” said Yu Sut Taw, a Muslim man living in a camp on the outskirts of the state capital Sittwe, one of several in Rakhine which are home to a total of about 140,000 displaced persons.
AFP reporters who visited two camps on Wednesday saw few signs of a mass evacuation under way.
Buddhist-Muslim clashes in the region last year left about 200 people dead and whole neighbourhoods burned to the ground.
Illustrating the dangers facing some of those who have tried to flee, 58 Rohingya were missing after their boat capsized on Monday as they tried to escape by sea to higher ground along the coast.
The cyclone appeared to have lost some of its strength as it churned northwards through the Bay of Bengal, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a statement late Tuesday.
But it may still bring “life-threatening conditions” for 8.2 million people in northeast India, Bangladesh and Myanmar, it warned.
Around 30 million of Bangladesh’s 153 million people live along the coast, which is also home to ramshackle camps housing Rohingya refugees.
Mohammed Kamruzzaman, a government magistrate in charge of a Rohingya camp in the Bangladeshi town of Cox’s Bazaar, said they used loudspeakers to warn people of the impending danger.
“We’ve also stockpiled dry food, kept medical teams and ambulances on standby and shifted the sick and pregnant women from the camps to hospitals,” he said.
Authorities in the southeastern city of Chittagong shut all garment factories ahead of the storm. “I have not seen a cyclone before. I am afraid,” said Manik Mia, one of a group of 25 construction workers who took shelter at the Daksin Patenga School just metres from the
Bay of Bengal. “I hope Allah will save us.”
Cyclone Mahasen was packing winds of up to 88 kilometres (55 miles) per hour at its centre and could unleash a storm surge of up to seven feet (two metres), said Shamsuddin Ahmed, deputy chief of Bangladesh Meteorological Department.
Bangladesh and Myanmar have both been frequent victims of cyclones which have left hundreds of thousands of people dead in recent decades.
Cyclone Nargis, which devastated Myanmar’s Irrawaddy Delta in May 2008, killed about 140,000 people.
Experts say Bangladesh is better prepared to handle cyclones than authorities across the border in Rakhine, where the military was deployed to oversee the evacuation.
“Some people don’t want to leave. We don’t want to see them die so we will move them under the law of protection from natural disasters,” said Aung Min, minister of the Myanmar president’s office. “We will continue to evacuate as many as possible until the last minute when the cyclone hits.”
He said about 27,000 Rohingya had already been moved but there was a lack of proper cyclone shelters.
“We don’t have any cyclone shelter in Rakhine state. We see that we should have constructed cyclone shelters there.”
Myanmar said the cyclone could delay President Thein Sein’s planned state visit to Washington — the first in almost half a century by a leader of the country formerly known as Burma, which is emerging from decades of military rule.
Rights groups have criticised Myanmar for failing to provide permanent housing sooner for displaced Rohingya, after months of warnings of the danger posed to the camps by this year’s monsoon.

-with The Independent input

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