Cyclone batters Bangladesh after major disaster averted in India

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Cyclone Fani weakened to a depression as it moved into Bangladesh on Saturday.

It had ripped through India’s east coast unleashing torrential rains and gale-force winds as hundreds of thousands of people fled its destructive path.

Local media reported up to 12 fatalities in the eastern Indian state of Odisha, where the “extremely severe” cyclonic storm struck on Friday, while disaster authorities put the death toll at three. 

A dozen deaths were reported in Bangladesh.

Read more:  The world’s deadliest hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones

Bangladesh evacuations

As the storm moved from India’s West Bengal state north east into Bangladesh it was still packing winds of up to 70 kilometers (45 miles) per hour and dumping heavy rain on the low-lying, densely populated country of 165 million people.

In Bangladesh, more than 1.6 million people were evacuated from vulnerable areas to shelters ahead of the storm, which inundated dozens of villages.

Read more: Climate change is real – and is getting worse 

Indian shelters and recovery

In Odisha, some 1.2 million people were evacuated ahead of the storm on Friday. By Saturday, disaster authorities said they were “on a war footing” to remove debris strewn over roads and restore power, phone and other services.

Extensive damage has been reported from the seaside temple town of Puri, which lay directly in Fani’s path, and in the state capital, Bhubaneswar.

Indien Uwetter l Zyklon Fani l in Puri (Getty Images/AFP/D. Sarkar)

Indian officials said it would take time to assess the full extent of damage. Communication lines were still cut across the region.

Worst disaster scenario avoided

Fani was the strongest storm to slam into India’s east coast since a 1999 cyclone in Odisha killed almost 10,000 people. 

Despite destroying thousands of homes across the region and leaving behind a trail of destruction, the death toll from the powerful storm was lower than initially feared.

Experts attributed the low number of deaths to improved early forecasting and a massive evacuation operation in Odisha.

The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction praised India for providing early warnings and “effective evacuation” of people in Odisha that “saved many lives.”

cw/jm (AFP, AP, Reuters)Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW’s editors send out a selection of the day’s hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

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