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Tropical cyclone in Bangladesh kills at least 425 people

At least 425 people were killed in a cyclone that swept into Bangladesh's coast with 240 kph (140 mph) winds.

Tropical Cyclone Sidr roared across the country's southwestern coast late Thursday with driving rain and high waves, leveling homes and forcing the evacuation of 650,000 villagers before heading inland and losing power Friday, officials said.

Downpours and staggering winds also spawned a water surge 1.2 meters (four feet) high that swept through low-lying areas and some offshore islands, leaving them under water, according to Nahid Sultana, an official at a cyclone control room in the capital, Dhaka.

Relief workers struggled Friday to bring aid to areas devastated by the initial impact of storm, even though Sidr had weakened into a tropical storm and was moving across the country to the northeast, with wind speed falling to 60 kilometers per hour (37 mph).

The cyclone flattened thousands of flimsy huts, uprooted trees, electricity and telephone poles, and destroyed crops and fish farms in 15 coastal districts, local government officials and witnesses said.

While government estimates had earlier put the death toll at 242, the news agency which has reporters deployed across the devastated region said they had made their own count in each affected district.

The government has acknowledged its trouble keeping count. The official disaster control room in Dhaka, the capital, is struggling to collect information with power and phone lines down in most remote areas. But Dalil Uddin, an official with the Ministry of Disaster Management, said Friday evening that the official toll also would go much higher than 242.

"There has been lot of damage to houses made of mud and bamboo and about 60 to 80 percent of the trees have been uprooted," said Vince Edwards, the Bangladesh director of the U.S.-based Christian aid group World Vision.

Edwards said debris from the storm has blocked roads and rivers, making it difficult to reach all the areas that had been hit.

Government teams also fanned out to deliver food and medicine, said Hasanul Amin of the cyclone preparedness program, supported by the government and the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society.

Power and communications in the capital, Dhaka, were also down. Strong winds uprooted trees, snapped power and telecommunication lines and sent billboards flying through the air, injuring several people, said Ashraful Zaman, another official at the cyclone control room.

At least 650,000 coastal villagers moved Thursday to cyclone shelters where they were given emergency rations, Ali Imam Majumder, a senior government official, told reporters in Dhaka.

By late Friday operations at the country's two main seaports Chittagong and Mongla and flights at Dhaka and Chittagong airports had resumed, authorities said.

The storm spared India's eastern coast, where the weather was calm Friday. India's Meteorological Department had forecast heavy rain and flooding in West Bengal and Orissa states.

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.

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