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Last Updated: Friday, 16 November 2007, 21:48 GMT
Bangladesh victims run for their lives
By Alastair Lawson
BBC News, Bangladesh

A woman collects corrugated iron sheets from her destroyed house in Mongla
Many people were left destitute by the devastating effects of the storm
People in the tiny village of Chila, near the southern Bangladeshi port town of Mongla, have a traumatised look on their faces.

"On Thursday night it felt as we would be blown away along with our houses," said Mohammed, describing the storm that swept the roof off his home.

Around 10 million people living in Bangladesh's coastal areas were given more than 48 hours warning of the impending storm.

Like many others in this isolated rural community adjoining the Bay of Bengal, Mohammed fled to one of hundreds of cyclone shelters along the southern Bangladeshi coast.

He did so after the authorities launched a huge operation to warn people of the dangers of the storm through megaphone announcements and newspaper announcements.

Saved lives

There were even reports of police forcing people to go into cyclone shelters.

But whatever the tactics of the police and government, there is little doubt that as a result, thousands of lives were saved.

Bangladeshis carry their belongings at their village Kanainagar, in Mongla
Their house destroyed, people pick up their belongings and move on

That is clear when you hear what happened to those who were unable or unwilling to run for cover.

"When we retuned to our houses from the shelter on Friday morning we could see bodies that had been washed up in the sea," he said.

"They were either fishermen who had ignored the cyclone warning or they were people who lived on a nearby island who were unable to get to a shelter."

In previous cyclones that have hit Bangladesh over the last 20 years fishermen in the Bay of Bengal have formed the bulk of the casualties.

That again appears to be the case in the latest storm, as villagers described seeing boats bringing in the dead.

They say it is those living in remote areas - especially those who live on numerous river islands in this part of Bangladesh known as chars - who have suffered the worst.

It will take time for the authorities to reach these areas and find out exactly how many people have been killed.

In some respects people in this part of Bangladesh got off lightly.

They point out that the worst of the storm struck when the tide was low, thereby abating a much feared tidal surge, which experts warned beforehand could wipe out entire communities.

Survival stories

Nearby the village is the port town of Mongla.

It has been shrouded in darkness because the storm cut all electricity supplies.

A fallen tree has destroyed a house in Mongla
We felt doomsday was coming
Hotel owner, Mongla

Trees on the approach to the town lay strewn by the side of the road, and many rice paddy fields have been destroyed.

All around the town it is possible to see houses whose corrugated iron roofs have literally been torn off.

The streets are deserted, but inside the town's main hotel there is no shortage of survival stories, including one man who narrowly avoided a falling tree.

There is a feeling in Mongla that given the severity of the storm, the people of the town have escaped lightly.

As the hotel owner pointed out to me: "On Thursday night we saw a category four storm - the highest rating - heading in our direction. We felt doomsday was coming."

"But we are thankful to be alive."

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