Thousands Ordered to Evacuate as Cyclone Hits Bangladesh

The outer edge of Cyclone Bijli began lashing southern Bangladesh on Friday night, officials said, as the government ordered the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents from the country's low-lying coast. Neighboring Myanmar was also bracing for the storm.

Asadur Rahman, a weather official in the southeastern Bangladeshi city of Chittagong, said the storm was packing winds of 55 miles per hour. said its center was about 150 mph from Calcutta, India, and moving northeast Friday night. It said the cyclone was slowly picking up steam.

Officials throughout the region said they did not expect it to cause significant damage — with some even saying the storm appeared to be weakening. But warned it could still dump as much as 10 inches of rain on the region, and winds could reach 90 mph. Rainfall at those levels could be devastating for Bangladesh — a low-lying delta nation.

The Meteorological Department in Dhaka late Friday said the storm was moving across the southern coastal districts of Chittagong and Cox's Bazar area and was expected to head away from Bangladesh early Saturday. Cox's Bazar is 185 miles south of the capital, Dhaka. The bulletin also said the storm was moving in the direction of the eastern Indian state of Tripura.

Food and Disaster Management Minister Abdur Razzaque said he ordered officials and volunteers to stay alert until Saturday noon.

The government of Myanmar issued a cyclone warning for the western coastal region, said.

The storm warnings came two weeks before the first anniversary of Cyclone Nargis, which exploded onto Myanmar's coast on May 2 and cut a swath of destruction through the country's main rice-growing area, leaving nearly 140,000 people dead or missing. The government issued warnings Friday and told boats in the bay to seek shelter. But said Bijli was on track to hit a hillier area of the country than Nargis.

Arif Ahmed, chief government administrator in Moheshkhali island, said they evacuated thousands of islanders to schools, mosques, government offices and 80 cyclone shelters — concrete boxes on pillars. Some 350,000 people live in Moheshkhali.

Feroz Khan, a local government official in Saint Martins island, said they evacuated thousands more.

In the coastal district of Bhola, which is 65 miles south of the capital, Dhaka, several thousands of people were evacuated, said the area's chief government administrator, Mesbaul Islam.

Cyclones and tropical storms are common in the region. In 2007, Cyclone Sidr killed at least 3,500 people in Bangladesh.