Cyclone Aila Kills 15 in India, Bangladesh

Cyclone Aila Kills 15 in India, Bangladesh

MAY 25, 2009, 10:15 A.M. ET

CALCUTTA, India — Strong winds and heavy rains from Cyclone Aila lashed eastern India and Bangladesh on Monday, killing at least 15 people and stranding thousands in their flooded villages.

By the evening, however, the storm had gradually begun to weaken, G.C. Debnath, an official at the local meteorological office said.

Five people were killed in the West Bengal state capital of Calcutta, where trees were uprooted, tram service stopped and schools closed early, according to the state’s Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Mayor Bikash Bhattacharya. Five others were killed in neighboring districts, Mr. Bhattacharjee said.

B.K. Bandhopadhyaya, an official at the Indian Meteorological Department in New Delhi said that the cyclone had generated winds of about 70 miles per hour.

Several rivers burst their banks inside the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve, home to thousands of people and one the world’s largest wild tiger populations, Khalil Ahmed, the area’s district magistrate said. Thousands of residents were evacuated to safer areas.

It is believed about 250 tigers live on the Indian side of the Sundarbans, a tangle of mangrove forests, while another 250 reside on the Bangladeshi side.

Mrinal Chatterjee, the project director of the Institute of Nature Lovers and Climbers, an environmental group that works in the Sundarbans, said it was difficult to assess the damage to the tiger habitat because the water levels were too high for ecologists and forest officials to venture into the area. He added that fresh water sources in the mangrove forests were already likely inundated with sea water.

The storm also caused high waves to hit low-lying coastal areas in neighboring Bangladesh, said Farah Diba, an official at the Meteorological Office in the capital Dhaka.

At least five people were killed in the flooding that followed, the United News of Bangladesh news agency said. About 15,000 people were stranded in eight flooded villages as six-foot high waves crashed into the area, the news agency said.

Tidal surges breached flood-protection embankments in coastal areas about 85 miles southwest of Dhaka.

The Indian Meteorological Department advised people in affected areas to stay indoors. The cyclone was expected to cause extensive damage to thatched roofs and huts and “minor damage to power and communication lines due to uprooting of large trees.”

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