Bangladesh raises highest danger warning as cyclone takes aim

A woman looks on inside her flooded house in Dodangoda village in Kalutara, Sri Lanka May 28, 2017. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

By Ruma Paul and Dinuka Liyanawatte

DHAKA/AGALAWATTE, Sri Lanka/ (Reuters) – Bangladesh raised its storm danger signal to the highest level of 10 on Monday as a severe and intensifying cyclone churned toward its low-lying coast and was expected to make landfall in the early hours of Tuesday.

Impoverished Bangladesh, hit by cyclones every year, warned that some coastal areas were “likely to be inundated by a storm surge of four to five feet (1.2 to 1.5 meters)” above normal because of approaching Cyclone Mora.

The Disaster Ministry ordered authorities to evacuate people from the coast, the ministry’s additional secretary, Golam Mostafa, told reporters in Dhaka. About 10 million of Bangladesh’s population of 160 million live in coastal areas.

River ferries had suspended operations and fishing boats called in to safety.

“Maritime ports of Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar have been advised to lower danger signal number seven but instead hoist great danger signal number ten (repeat) ten,” a government weather bulletin said.

“The coastal districts of Chittagong, Cox’s Bazar, Noakhali, Laxmipur, Feni, Chandpur and their offshore islands … will come under danger signal number ten (repeat) ten.”

Bangladesh is hit by storms, many of them devastating, every year. Half a million people had their lives disrupted in coastal areas such as Barisal and Chittagong in May last year.

It is still recovering from flash floods that hit the northeast, affecting millions of people, in April. Rice prices have reached record highs and state reserves are at 10-year lows in the wake of flooding that wiped out around 700,000 tonnes of rice.

The cyclone formed after monsoon rains triggered floods and landslides in neighboring Sri Lanka, off India’s southern tip, which have killed at least 177 people in recent days, authorities said, with 24 killed in storms in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, either by lightning strikes or under collapsed village huts.

India warned of heavy rain in the northeastern states of Tripura, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh as Mora moved further up the Bay of Bengal.

RUBBER AND TEA PLANTATIONS HIT

Floods reached roof level and cut off access to many rural Sri Lankan villages, disrupting life for 557,500 people, many of them workers on rubber plantations, officials said. Nearly 75,000 people had been forced out of their homes.

Villagers in Agalawatte, in a key rubber-growing area 74 km (46 miles) southeast of the capital, Colombo, said they were losing hope of water levels falling soon after the heaviest rain since 2003. Fifty-three villagers died and 58 were missing.

“All access to our village is cut off. A landslide took place inside the village and several houses are buried,” Mohomed Abdulla, 46, told Reuters.

Some areas in the southern coastal district of Galle, popular with foreign tourists, have not received relief due to lack of access.

“My entire village is cut off and nobody can come to this village,” C.M. Chandrapla, 54, told Reuters by phone from the tourist village of Neluwa.

“There have been no supplies for the past two days. Water has gone above three-storey buildings and people survive by running to higher ground.”

The Sri Lankan military has sent in helicopters and boats in rescue efforts in the most widespread disaster since the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. About 100 people were missing in total.

The meteorology department forecast torrential rains over the next 36 hours.

Residents in seven densely populated districts in the south and center of Sri Lanka were asked to move away from unstable slopes in case of further landslides.

The wettest time of the year in Sri Lanka’s south is usually during the southern monsoon, from May to September. The island also receives heavy rains in the North West monsoonal season from November to February.

Reuters witnessed some people stranded on the upper floors of their homes. Civilians and relief officials in boats distributed food, water and other relief items.

One of the worst-hit areas was the southern coastal district of Matara which is home to black tea plantations. Rohan Pethiyagod, head of the Tea Board in the world’s largest exporter of top quality teas, said supplies would be disrupted for the next auction due to a lack of transportation.

Sri Lanka has already appealed for international assistance from the United Nations and neighboring countries.

(Additional reporting by Ranga Sirilal in Colombo; Writing by Shihar Aneez and Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Bangladesh raises highest danger warning as cyclone takes aim

A Sri Lankan Navy rescue team member carries an old man on a flooded road during a rescue mission in Nagoda village in Kalutara, Sri Lanka May

By Ruma Paul and Dinuka Liyanawatte

DHAKA/AGALAWATTE, Sri Lanka/ (Reuters) – Bangladesh raised its storm danger signal to the highest level of 10 on Monday as a severe and intensifying cyclone churned toward its low-lying coast and was expected to make landfall in the early hours of Tuesday.

Impoverished Bangladesh, hit by cyclones every year, warned that some coastal areas were “likely to be inundated by a storm surge of four to five feet (1.2 to 1.5 meters)” above normal because of approaching Cyclone Mora.

The Disaster Ministry ordered authorities to evacuate people from the coast, the ministry’s additional secretary, Golam Mostafa, told reporters in Dhaka. About 10 million of Bangladesh’s population of 160 million live in coastal areas.

River ferries had suspended operations and fishing boats called in to safety.

“Maritime ports of Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar have been advised to lower danger signal number seven but instead hoist great danger signal number ten (repeat) ten,” a government weather bulletin said.

“The coastal districts of Chittagong, Cox’s Bazar, Noakhali, Laxmipur, Feni, Chandpur and their offshore islands … will come under danger signal number ten (repeat) ten.”

Bangladesh is hit by storms, many of them devastating, every year. Half a million people had their lives disrupted in coastal areas such as Barisal and Chittagong in May last year.

It is still recovering from flash floods that hit the northeast, affecting millions of people, in April. Rice prices have reached record highs and state reserves are at 10-year lows in the wake of flooding that wiped out around 700,000 tonnes of rice.

The cyclone formed after monsoon rains triggered floods and landslides in neighboring Sri Lanka, off India’s southern tip, which have killed at least 177 people in recent days, authorities said, with 24 killed in storms in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, either by lightning strikes or under collapsed village huts.

India warned of heavy rain in the northeastern states of Tripura, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh as Mora moved further up the Bay of Bengal.

RUBBER AND TEA PLANTATIONS HIT

Floods reached roof level and cut off access to many rural Sri Lankan villages, disrupting life for 557,500 people, many of them workers on rubber plantations, officials said. Nearly 75,000 people had been forced out of their homes.

Villagers in Agalawatte, in a key rubber-growing area 74 km (46 miles) southeast of the capital, Colombo, said they were losing hope of water levels falling soon after the heaviest rain since 2003. Fifty-three villagers died and 58 were missing.

“All access to our village is cut off. A landslide took place inside the village and several houses are buried,” Mohomed Abdulla, 46, told Reuters.

Some areas in the southern coastal district of Galle, popular with foreign tourists, have not received relief due to lack of access.

“My entire village is cut off and nobody can come to this village,” C.M. Chandrapla, 54, told Reuters by phone from the tourist village of Neluwa.

“There have been no supplies for the past two days. Water has gone above three-storey buildings and people survive by running to higher ground.”

A boy rides his bike along a flooded road in Nagoda village, in Kalutara, Sri Lanka May 29, 2017.

A boy rides his bike along a flooded road in Nagoda village, in Kalutara, Sri Lanka May 29, 2017. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

The Sri Lankan military has sent in helicopters and boats in rescue efforts in the most widespread disaster since the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. About 100 people were missing in total.

The meteorology department forecast torrential rains over the next 36 hours.

Residents in seven densely populated districts in the south and center of Sri Lanka were asked to move away from unstable slopes in case of further landslides.

The wettest time of the year in Sri Lanka’s south is usually during the southern monsoon, from May to September. The island also receives heavy rains in the North West monsoonal season from November to February.

Reuters witnessed some people stranded on the upper floors of their homes. Civilians and relief officials in boats  distributed food, water and other relief items.

One of the worst-hit areas was the southern coastal district of Matara which is home to black tea plantations. Rohan Pethiyagod, head of the Tea Board in the world’s largest exporter of top quality teas, said supplies would be disrupted for the next auction due to a lack of transportation.

Sri Lanka has already appealed for international assistance from the United Nations and neighboring countries.

(Additional reporting by Ranga Sirilal in Colombo; Writing by Shihar Aneez and Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Army assesses damage after storm ‘absolutely smashes’ north Australia

A damaged building is seen behind a boat that was pushed onto a bank due to Cyclone Debbie in the township of Airlie Beach, located south of the northern Australian city of Townsville, March 29, 2017. AAP/Dan Peled/via REUTERS

By Tom Westbrook and Benjamin Weir

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Cyclone Debbie wrought widespread but moderate damage in Australia’s northeast, authorities said on Wednesday, as flooding rain and fallen trees slowed troops and emergency workers reaching the worst-hit areas.

No deaths were reported a day after Debbie smashed tourist resorts, flattened canefields and shut down coal mines in tropical Queensland state as a category four storm, one rung below the most dangerous wind speed level.

“It’s looking promising in terms of being able to rebuild promptly with most of the major infrastructure intact,” Queensland state police deputy commissioner Steve Gollschewski told Australian Broadcasting Corporation television.

“We’re still struggling to get in there, however,” he said, adding planes and boats were being used to bring army personnel and emergency workers to places cut-off by road.

And as poor weather persisted and several Bowen Basin collieries stayed shut, analysts said Debbie could push coking coal prices higher – while tourism operators, even in unaffected regions, reported canceled bookings.

Resorts along the world-famous Great Barrier Reef and coastal areas bore the brunt of the storm with wind gusts stronger than 260 kph (160 mph).

One family near Airlie Beach, over which the eye of the storm passed, had a particularly dramatic night. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the family welcomed a baby girl who was born inside the Whitsunday Ambulance Station as the storm raged outside.

Pictures from Hamilton Island and Airlie Beach showed streets stacked with snapped trees, roof tiles and furniture, with wrecked yachts washed ashore.

“Nature has flung her worst at the people of Queensland,” Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters at the Crisis Coordination Centre in Canberra.

Electricity was cut for more than 63,000 people, and Wilmar said its sugar mills were stilled at Proserpine and Sarina.

Hundreds of hectares of sugarcane crops had been flattened, Dan Galligan, chief executive of industry body Canegrowers, said in a statement.

In the Bowen Basin, the world’s single-largest source of coal used to make steel, BHP Billiton, Glencore, and Stanmore Coal all said work at mines there was halted until further notice.

But Glencore added its Collinsville and Newlands mines were not damaged and it anticipated production would resume within 48 hours, with no impact on annual targets. Prices lifted, but other factors also contributed.

Ports operator North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation also said it had no reports of significant damage.

Whitsunday Islands resorts were battered, running short on fresh water and closed to bookings until at least next week, but mostly intact.

Hoteliers hundreds of kilometers away at Cairns and Rockhampton were seeing cancellations for upcoming Easter holidays and operators worried that bad press would prolong the recovery, Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind said.

“These are places that are entirely unaffected by these circumstances and that’s the kind of collateral damage we suffer sometimes in our industry,” he said.

Townsville Airport reopened, although airlines Qantas and Virgin said flights to Hamilton Island, Proserpine and Mackay were canceled.

Only two injuries were reported, police said.

(Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Writing by Jane Wardell; Editing by Toni Reinhold, Paul Tait and Michael Perry)

Thousands shelter as “screaming, howling” Cyclone Debbie hits north Australia

Strong wind and rain from Cyclone Debbie is seen effecting trees at Airlie Beach, located south of the northern Australian city of Townsville. AAP/Dan Peled/via REUTERS

By Tom Westbrook and Benjamin Weir

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Howling winds, heavy rain and huge seas pounded Australia’s northeast on Tuesday, damaging homes, wrecking jetties and cutting power to thousands of people as Tropical Cyclone Debbie tore through the far north of Queensland.

Wind gusts stronger than 260 km per hour (160 mph) were recorded at tourist resorts along the world-famous Great Barrier Reef as the storm made landfall as a category four, one rung below the most dangerous wind speed level.

It was later downgraded to category two. Forecasters said high winds would likely persist overnight, although the storm would then weaken rapidly and was expected to be downgraded to category one by dawn on Wednesday.

Police said one man was badly hurt when a wall collapsed at Proserpine, about 900 km (560 miles) northwest of the Queensland capital, Brisbane, and was taken to hospital.

But the weather was still too bad to assess damage fully or mount an emergency response.

“We will also receive more reports of injuries, if not deaths. We need to be prepared for that,” Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart told reporters in Brisbane.

As the storm forged slowly inland after nightfall, state premier Annastacia Palaszczuk urged people to stay indoors.

“It is a serious event and we do not want to see loss of life,” she told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

“It will be a difficult night for people across our state.”

Cyclone Debbie made landfall at Airlie Beach, north of Proserpine, shortly after midday local time (0200 GMT), knocking out telephone services.

“It’s very noisy: Screaming, howling wind … sounds like a freight train,” Jan Clifford told Reuters by text from Airlie Beach as the cyclone made landfall.

“Still blowing like crazy,” she said four hours later.

Authorities had urged thousands of people in threatened areas to flee their homes on Monday, in what would have been the biggest evacuation seen in Australia since Cyclone Tracy devastated the northern city of Darwin on Christmas Day, 1974.

CATASTROPHE DECLARED

Torrential rain flooded streets and wind smashed windows, uprooted trees and tossed debris down streets, while jetties at Airlie Beach marina were wrecked, Nine Network television pictures showed.

Power was cut for 48,000 people in a wide area between the towns of Bowen and Mackay, north and south of Airlie Beach, Ergon Energy spokesman John Fowler said.

Ports at Abbot Point, Mackay and Hay Point were shut and Townsville airport was closed. Airlines Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Australia suspended flights to and from the region and said planes may also be grounded on Wednesday, although Townsville airport said it would reopen.

BHP Billiton and Glencore halted work at their coal mines in the storm’s path.

The Insurance Council of Australia declared Cyclone Debbie a catastrophe, making it easier to make claims, but said in a statement it was too early to estimate the cost of damage.

With an eye 50 km (30 miles) wide, the cyclone had earlier damaged tourist resorts, washed away beaches and tore boats from moorings as it swept through the Whitsunday islands, guests told Reuters by telephone.

Cyclone Debbie is the strongest storm to hit Queensland since Cyclone Yasi destroyed homes and crops and devastated island resorts in 2011.

Authorities had feared tidal surges in low-lying areas as the storm whipped up waves and currents and lifted sea levels, but said later that danger had eased.

Holidaymakers tried to make the best of it as they bunkered down in resort buildings. “Go to the Whitsundays they said, it’d be fun they said, beautiful weather over here,” holidaymaker Kurt Moore told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“I’m so glad we got evacuated out of the place we were staying at, I think we’d be pooping watermelons right now to be honest,” he said.

Despite issuing evacuation orders, police said they were not sure how many people had heeded their advice.

That did not deter some thrill-seeking bodyboarders who paddled out to surf in the heaving seas at Airlie Beach, television footage showed.

(Additional reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Paul Tait)

Cyclone batters south India coast killing four

Policemen remove a tree that fell on a road after it was uprooted by strong winds in Chennai, India,

HENNAI, India (Reuters) – A cyclone barreled into the southeast coast of India on Monday, killing at least four people and bringing down trees and power lines as authorities moved tens of thousands of people from low-lying areas.

Cyclone Vardah moved west over the Bay of Bengal before hitting Chennai, capital of the southern state of Tamil Nadu, as well as neighboring Andhra Pradesh, the Indian Meteorological Department said, describing it as a “very severe storm”.

Strong wind of up to 140 kph (87 mph) battered the densely populated coast, uprooting trees and bringing down electricity pylons.

Flights at Chennai airport were canceled, railway services in the area suspended and schools and colleges were closed.

Chennai is home to Indian operations of major auto firms such as Ford Motor, Daimler, Hyundai and Nissan.

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said Vardah is passing over Chennai, drenching the city in heavy rain, but is expected to ease in intensity later.

“Winds and rains might still intensify. Do not venture out,” the NDMA said on Twitter, adding that four people had been killed.

More than 23,000 people in Tamil Nadu have been moved to relief centers, with plans for tens of thousands more to be evacuated if needed, a senior state official, K. Satyagopal, told Reuters.

More than 10,000 people from two districts in Andhra Pradesh state had also been moved, its disaster management commissioner, M.V. Seshagiri Babu, said.

The NDMA warned fishermen not to venture out to sea for the next 36 hours, and urged residents to stay in safe places.

Navy ships and aircraft, as well as 30 diving teams, were on standby to help move people and deliver aid if needed, a navy spokesman said.

India’s cyclone season usually runs from April to December, with storms often causing dozens of deaths, evacuations of tens of thousands of people and widespread damage to crops and property.

Wind speeds topped 300 km per hour (186 mph) in an Indian “super-cyclone” that killed 10,000 people in 1999, while a cyclone packing speeds of more than 200 kph (124 mph) lashed the east coast in 2013.

(Reporting by Jatindra Dash, Tommy Wilkes and Anuradha Nagaraj; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Deadly cyclone pounds Bangladesh, Sri Lanka

By Nita Bhalla

NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Tens of thousands of people in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka need aid including clean drinking water, dry food rations and medicines after a deadly cyclone hammered the South Asia region, aid agencies said on Tuesday.

With wind speeds reaching 90 kph (56 mph) and heavy rains, cyclone Roanu struck Bangladesh on Saturday, after buffeting India and Sri Lanka in the Bay of Bengal – killing at least 120 people and affecting hundreds of thousands more in the region.

Aid workers said Roanu’s torrential rains triggered flooding, landslides and tidal surges mostly in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh – ripping apart thousands of rickety homes, burying entire villages and inundating swathes of farmland.

“Tens of thousands of poor families will have lost most of their assets – not just their houses, but also their food stores, seasonal crops and vital livestock such as cows, goats and ducks,” said Shakeb Nabi, Christian Aid’s Bangladesh head.

“Access to food, safe drinking water, health supplies and sanitation materials is limited in some villages. Water points have been ruined, ground water contaminated and agricultural land destroyed.”

In Sri Lanka, where more than a week of heavy rains has triggered the worst flooding in 25 years, the United Nations said it was worried about the spread of diseases due to large amounts of standing water.

The World Health Organization said there was an increased risk of vector borne diseases like malaria, water borne and diarrheal diseases, the bacterial disease leptospirosis, fungal diseases and acute respiratory infections.

“Prevention measures to combat such diseases are essential,” it added.

Roanu is the first cyclone of the season, which generally lasts from April to December, with severe storms often causing mass evacuations from coastal low-lying villages and widespread crop and property damage.

RUSHING IN RELIEF

Aid agencies in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka said they had begun distributing relief in the worst affected districts and foreign aid had started arriving in Sri Lanka from countries including India, Pakistan and Singapore.

Half a million people have had their lives disrupted in Bangladesh’s low-lying coastal areas such as Barisal and Chittagong, and over 255,000 people are affected in Sri Lankan districts including Kegalle, Gamapaha and the capital Colombo in the west.

“We have pre-positioned household materials and hygiene kits that we can dispatch to affected areas and distribute to communities in urgent need,” said Senait Gebregziabher, country director for Plan International.

“These materials will be essential as children and families affected by the cyclone, particularly those forced to leave their homes, will most likely be seeking food, shelter, basic sanitation and access to clean water.”

Sri Lanka has reported 94 deaths and 107 people missing. Bangladesh said at least 24 people had died and India reported two deaths.

U.N. emergency officials said Roanu also brought heavy rains and flooding to coastal eastern and southern India and western parts of Myanmar, but the impact was less severe.

(Reporting by Nita Bhalla. Additional reporting by Shihar Aneez in Colombo, Ruma Paul in Dhaka, Alisa Tang in Bangkok. Editing by Emma Batha. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

Powerful Cyclone Aimed At Australia

A tropical cyclone is bearing down on Australia.

Tropical Cyclone Ita is expected to make landfall in northeast Australia.  The storm is the equivalent of a strong Category 4 hurricane according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center.

However, forecasters say the storm will strengthen before landfall and be a Category 5 severe tropical cyclone.

The storm is expected to have such intense winds and rain by the time it makes landfall that forecasters are warning of strong storm surges that could cause serious damage to coastal areas.

The Australia Bureau of Meteorology believes that Cooktown will bear the brunt of the storm’s landfall and then the storm will turn south.

Thousands Evacuate Ahead of Cyclone Helen

Indian officials are evacuating coastlines as Cyclone Helen approaches.

At least 25,000 people have been evacuated and thousands more are expected to leave before the storm makes landfall on Friday.

Cyclone Helen is tracking to hit four districts of India Friday with winds up to 68 miles an hour. The slow moving storm is producing surges of 5 feet already and heavy rainfall is expected to cause flooding in low-lying areas.

Helen is reporting maximum wind gusts of 80 miles per hour.

India’s eastern coast was hit last month by Cyclone Phailin that killed 25 people and destroyed tens of thousands of homes. Officials say the evacuation of a million people ahead of the storm kept the death toll low.

Cyclone Cleopatra Kills 17 In Sardinia

Cyclone Cleopatra roared into the Italian island of Sardinia killing at least 17 people and leaving dozens missing.

The storm’s heavy rains led to flash flooding and many rivers to overflow their banks. The flooding destroyed several bridges and swept away cars and homes.

A mother and daughter died when they car was swept away in the flash flooding. A family of three died when a bridge collapsed onto their car.

Prime Minister Enrico Letta has declared a state of emergency for the island, calling the situation a “national tragedy.” He said that $27 million would be immediately allocated to emergency relief efforts and that soldiers are being sent to the island for search and rescue operations.

Reports say the flash flooding reached 10 feet high at times. The mayor of the told of Olbia told the BBC the storm was “apocalyptic.”

Officials say that citizens of the island are coming together. Many residents with homes left undamaged by the storm are using social media to contact those who have lost homes and are inviting them in for meals and shelter.

Category Five Cyclone Bearing Down On India

India has evacuated over 200,000 people from the western coastline as a massive cyclone roars through the Bay of Bengal.

Cyclone Phailin is predicted to make landfall Saturday morning in Orissa state.

The storm has been classified as category 5 by the London-based Tropical Storm Risk center and the U.S. Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center has predicted winds from the superstorm could reach 195 mph when it hits land.  Storm surges will be at least 10 feet and likely much higher.

“The storm has high damage potential considering windspeed,” the director of the India Meteorological Department told the BBC.  More concerning to the meteorologists watching the storm is the wide area the storm is covering in the ocean.

A super-cyclone similar to Phailin killed 10,000 people in Orissa state in 1999.