Cyclone floods east India, Bangladesh, kills 73
By MANIK BANERJEE
CALCUTTA, India (AP) — Cyclone Aila lashed low-lying areas in eastern India and Bangladesh, destroying thousands of homes, stranding tens of thousands of people in flooded villages and killing at least 73 before it began to ease Tuesday.
Conservationists expressed concern over the fate of one of the world's largest tiger populations, which was in the path of the storm.
Aila tore down nearly 3,000 thatched and mud houses and uprooted a large number of trees in nearly 300 villages across India's West Bengal state, said Kanti Ganguly, a state minister. He said 34 people were killed in West Bengal.
Storm surges hit coastal areas in neighboring Bangladesh, killing at least 39 people, according to Food and Disaster Management Ministry in Dhaka. It said most victims drowned or were washed away by the waves.
The country's leading newspaper, Prothom Alo, said tens of thousands of people were stranded as waters submerged their homes. It said 6-foot- (2-meter-) high waves crashed into the area, breaching dozens of flood protection embankments across the coastal region about 85 miles (135 kilometers) southwest of Dhaka.
News reports indicated the death toll could be as high as 123 in the two countries.
With the storm weakening overnight, authorities restored train and air services and reopened schools in most parts of West Bengal state on Tuesday, Indian officials said. Ganguly said soldiers were deployed on Monday night to evacuate stranded villagers.
During the height of the storm, several rivers burst their banks inside the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve, said Khalil Ahmed, the area's district magistrate. It is believed about 250 tigers live on the Indian side of the Sundarbans, a tangle of mangrove forests, and another 250 live on the Bangladeshi side.
It was difficult to assess the damage because water levels were too high for ecologists and forest officials to go into the area, said Mrinal Chatterjee, project director of the Institute of Nature Lovers and Climbers, an environmental group that works in the Sundarbans. But he said tigers were likely affected because flooding had contaminated their supplies of fresh water.
Thousands of residents were evacuated from the reserve.
The wave of rain began to hit India's northeast on Tuesday, but the Indian Meteorological Department expected the storm to weaken into a deep depression.
Associated Press writer Farid Hossain contributed to this story.
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