DHAKA, Bangladesh - A cyclone that slammed into Bangladesh's coast with 150 mph winds killed at least 242 people, leveled homes and forced the evacuation of 650,000 villagers before heading inland and losing power Friday, officials said.
Local residents look inside a damaged class room at a school in Barishal, 120 kilometers(75 miles) south of Bangladesh's capital Friday, Nov. 16, 2007. [Agencies]
Cyclone Sidr roared across the country's southwestern coast late Thursday with driving rain and high waves. The storm left about 242 villagers dead from falling debris, said Nahid Sultana, an official at a cyclone control room in Dhaka.
By early Friday, the cyclone had weakened into a tropical storm and was moving across the country to the northeast. The department said that while skies remained overcast, wind speed had fallen to 37 mph.
Storm surges nearly 4 feet high inundated low-lying areas and some offshore islands in the 15 coastal districts in the cyclone's path. Communications with remote forest areas and offshore islands were temporarily lost.
Torrential rain late Thursday and early Friday flooded some streets in the capital, Dhaka, while strong winds sent billboards flying through the air.
In the coastal districts of Barguna, Bagerhat, Barisal and Bhola, residents said the storm flattened thousands of flimsy straw and mud huts, flooded low-lying areas, destroyed crops and fish farms, uprooted trees, electric and telephone poles. Road, rail and river transport also suffered.
Bangladesh, a low-lying delta nation, is prone to seasonal cyclones and floods that cause huge losses of life and property. The coastal area borders eastern India and is famous for the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans, a world heritage site that is home to rare Royal Bengal Tigers.
Thousands of coastal villagers moved to cyclone shelters - concrete buildings on raised pilings, or sought refuge inside "mud forts" - mud walls built along the coast to resist tidal surges. Schools, mosques and other public buildings were also turned into makeshift shelters.
At least 650,000 people had so far moved into official shelters, where they were being given emergency rations, Ali Imam Majumder, a senior government official, told reporters in Dhaka.
Authorities dispatched dry foods, medicines, tents and blankets to the affected areas, he said.