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World News

Cyclone Aila kills nearly 200 in Bangladesh, India

DHAKA (Reuters) - Nearly 200 people have been killed by a cyclone that ripped through Bangladesh and eastern India, while millions remained marooned by floodwater or forced to live in shelters.

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. Nearly 120 people have been killed by Cyclone Aila that ripped through Bangladesh and eastern India including the Sundarbans, which is home to the world's largest tiger reserve, officials and local media said on Tuesday, while millions remained marooned by floodwaters or living in shelters. REUTERS/Jayanta Shaw

The death toll in Bangladesh rose to more than 130 following recovery of dozens of bodies Tuesday, newspapers and private television channels said, while Indian officials said at least 64 people had died in West Bengal state.

Cyclone Aila slammed into parts of coastal Bangladesh and eastern India Monday, triggering tidal surges and flooding that forced people from their homes.

Officials in both countries said they feared the death tolls would rise although relief and rescue efforts were being intensified.

“Millions of people have been affected by the cyclone, with half a million in shelters and another half a million forced from their homes or were marooned,” a disaster control official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters in Dhaka.

Officials in Bangladesh moved about 500,000 people to temporary shelters after they left their homes to escape huge tidal waves churned by winds up to 100 kph (60 mph).

Heavy rain triggered by the storm also raised river levels and burst mud embankments in the Sundarbans delta in the neighboring eastern Indian state of West Bengal.

“So far, we have got reports of 64 deaths in the state, including nine deaths in landslides in the Darjeeling hills on Tuesday,” West Bengal’s chief secretary Ashok Mohan Chakraborty told reporters in Kolkata.

In Bangladesh, the worst affected area was the Satkhira district, near the port of Mongla, where a local official said 31 bodies were found in one village.

“The situation here is alarming,” Mohammad Abdus Samad, deputy commissioner of Satkhira, told Reuters by telephone.

CROPS DAMAGED

Large areas of crops were destroyed in both countries by the cyclone, officials said, adding they were assessing the damage.

Many farmers have lost their rice just ready to be harvested. “Allah has taken it all from me. I have been made a pauper,” said Mohar Ali, a farmer.

Aila swept many areas still recovering from Cyclone Sidr in November 2007, which killed 3,500 people in Bangladesh and made at least a million homeless.

Bangladesh officials said at least 100 people were missing after Monday’s cyclone.

Some aid workers said they feared several hundred people might have been killed by Aila, which followed the less lethal Cyclone Bijli that killed a only few people in April.

Army, navy and coastguards were helping civil officials and volunteers to search for the missing and pick up people marooned in hundreds of villages, caught in chest or shoulder-high waters, witnesses said.

“Continuing rain and wind have slowed our efforts,” one official said.

Bangladesh’s food and disaster management minister, Abdur Razzaque, who visited some of the battered areas Tuesday, said authorities were trying to bring the marooned families to safety and provide them food and shelter.

Witnesses said many cyclone survivors faced a shortage of food and drinking water in areas still under storm surge.

In West Bengal, the Indian army and government aid workers Tuesday began an operation to provide relief to more than 400,000 people marooned in the Sundarbans delta region.

“We have moved two columns, each with 100 personnel, to Sundarbans for relief,” said Mahesh Upasani, a defense spokesman.

Additional reporting by Serajul Islam Quadir, Ruma Paul and Nizam Ahmed in Dhaka, Sujoy Dhar in Kolkata and Jatindra Dash in Bhubaneswar; Editing by Alison Williams

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