May 27, 2009 / 11:31 AM / 9 years ago

Millions displaced by cyclone in India, Bangladesh

KOLKATA, India (Reuters) - Cyclone Aila has displaced millions of people in India and Bangladesh, only a fraction of whom have access to food and drinking water, officials said on Wednesday.

Cyclone victims wait across a damaged bridge at Akshaynagar in the Sundarbans delta, about 100 km (62 miles) south from the eastern Indian city of Kolkata, May 26, 2009. Cyclone Aila has displaced millions of people in India and Bangladesh, only a fraction of whom have access to food and drinking water, officials said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Jayanta Shaw

The cyclone has killed at least 210 people in the flood-prone region, though officials said the death toll could rise, and rescuers have struggled to reach millions still marooned.

Cyclone Aila hit parts of coastal Bangladesh and eastern India on Monday, triggering tidal surges and floods.

Officials say more than one million people have been displaced in India’s Sundarban islands in West Bengal state alone, one of the world’s biggest tiger reserves and which is already threatened by global warming.

Heavy rain triggered by the storm raised river levels and burst mud embankments in the Sundarbans delta, destroying hundreds of thousands of houses and causing widespread flooding in the eastern state, and triggered landslides.

Global warming experts say rising sea levels have seen the fragile Sundarbans lose 28 percent of its habitat in the last 40 years.

Nearly 2.3 million people have been displaced and tens of thousands have moved to government shelters in West Bengal, the aid agency Save the Children told AlertNet.

“There is water everywhere. We could reach aid to only 10 percent of the affected population. We could not even airdrop food packets because of the flooding,” Kanti Ganguly, West Bengal state minister for Sundarbans, told Reuters.

At least 135 people have died in Bangladesh and 75 in West Bengal, and hundreds are still missing, according to officials.

In Sundarbans there were fears for the fate of the more than 250 tigers in the reserve.

In Bangladesh, Aila destroyed tens of thousands of acres of crops.

As water levels slowly recede, hundreds of thousands of families who sought refuge in shelters, schools and other buildings are now returning to find their homes either washed away or submerged in water.

Disaster management officials said more than 175,000 families have lost their homes while another 270,000 homes were damaged.

(Additional reporting by Ruma Paul and Serajul Islam Quadir in

Dhaka, Nita Bhalla in New Delhi; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Alistair Scrutton)

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