Thursday, November 15, 2007

Cyclone Sidr landfall in Sundarbans & what shelters-disaster preparation?

Nearly Category 5 hurricane Cyclone Sidr made landfall in Sundarbans forests, a relatively unpopulated area, but home to the few remaining Bengal tigers. According to Dr. Jeff Masters, the storm surge should be around 20-25 feet. In the last big cyclone this resulted in much long-term flooding, saturation, and destruction to the low-lying areas to the east of the Sundarbans.

Although the government says its preparations include the shelters built after the previous cyclone, many are asking: What shelters and in what condition? Both Masters and the BBC among others have commented on the limited number of 2500 multi-use shelters and many of them are in poor condition for the millions that need them. Others may have no where to go and as noted in my earlier post and in BBC, refuse to leave their dwellings, animals and families despite a more extensive warning system than in 1970 and 1991. Or some fishing boats seek to gain the advantage against fewer boats and get caught in the storms.

The Government of Bangladesh says that it is ready to deal with the situation much like they have with the floods of 2004 and 2007. Rezwan provides a list of events and preparations. As shown in pictures, many people have already sought shelter. We will have to see how this transpires because besides some warnings and evacuation orders, much of the previous disaster responses and international donor-media attention have occurred much after the event when Bangladesh appealed for help.

Inland, Dhaka residents already were feeling the effects of Sidr. On midday Thursday, some Nari Jibon Project staff told me via e-mail that they had already experienced hard rains, high winds, and much difficulty reaching the project office. Knowledge of the Cyclone and its track was limited to reports in local newspapers and they were shocked to see the tracking links-pictures that I had sent via my previous blog post.

According to Project Director, Rafiq Islam, "It has been raining since morning with onek thanda batash (much cold wind) I have come to office onek kosto kore (much hard effort)". I sent the staff and few students home before they had any further transportation challenges in flooded streets and high winds that send debris and tin roofs airborne. The Project office and classes will be closed until the weather clears. These Dhaka weather conditions occurred, even in advance of Sidr's landfall on Thursday night. Now Sidr is moving onwards through the densely populated southern region to Dhaka as a Category 2 hurricane.

Some newer links Bangladesh & Dhaka, Media updates

Please continue to keep the people of Bangladesh and India in your thoughts and prayers as Sidr continues its path through the heart of Bangladesh.

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