At least nine dead as Cyclone Fani enters Bangladesh

At least nine dead as Cyclone Fani enters Bangladesh

Dhaka (Agencies): At least nine people were killed when Cyclone Fani barrelled into Bangladesh on Saturday after leaving a trail of deadly destruction in India where at least eight people reportedly died.

According to Bangladeshi police, the nine victims perished even before the eye of the storm rumbled over the border in the morning. More than a million people living in the most vulnerable districts of Bangladesh were moved to some 4,000 shelters.

Having hit land, Tropical Cyclone Fani lost some of its power and was downgraded to a “Deep Depression” by the Indian Meteorological Department. A storm surge still breached embankments to submerge dozens of villages on Bangladesh's low-lying coast, a disaster ministry official in Dhaka said.

Fourteen villages were inundated as a tidal surge breached flood dams. The dead included a minor in Barguna district on the coast, a two-year-old child in the Noakhali district and five others killed by lightening.

Although the storm was weakening on Saturday morning, it was still packing a punch, with winds of up to 70 kilometres per hour. Heavy rain battered the Indian state of West Bengal and its capital Kolkata, including the Sundarbans mangrove forest area.

Local media reported that 1.2 million people were evacuated in the coastal areas of West Bengal 24 hours before the arrival of Fani ("snake" in Bengali), with 5,000 leaving the low-lying areas and old, dilapidated buildings of Kolkata, home to 4.6 million people.

Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal's chief minister and a key figure in India's ongoing mega-election, cancelled all political rallies and set up an improvised control room in a hotel in the path of the storm.

Kolkata's international airport was ordered closed. Train services were also halted.

Worst hit was the state of Odisha, where Fani made landfall on Friday, packing winds gusting up to 200 kilometres an hour, sending coconut trees flying, knocking down power lines and cutting off water and telecommunications.

While not confirming any deaths, Odisha disaster management official Prabhat Mahapatra told a foreign news agency that there were about 160 people injured in the Hindu pilgrimage city of Puri alone.

PTI reported that a construction crane collapsed and that a police booth was dragged 60 metres by the wind.

As Fani headed northeast, Odisha authorities battled to remove fallen trees and other debris strewn over roads and to restore phone and internet services. Electricity pylons were down, tin roofs were ripped off and windows on many buildings were smashed.

The winds were felt as far away as Mount Everest, with tents blown away at Camp 2 at 6,400 metres and Nepali authorities cautioning helicopters against flying. Ports have been closed but the Indian Navy has sent warships to the region to help if needed. Hundreds of workers were taken off offshore oil rigs.