Capital : Dhaka. Area : 144 000 km². Official language : Bengali. Population : 150 448 340 inhabitants. Currency : Taka. President : Iajuddin Ahmed.
Hundreds of thousands of people in the path of a cyclone closing in on Bangladesh and eastern India were evacuated Thursday as forecasters warned the storm could hit land later in the day. Volunteers using microphones urged villagers in south and southeastern Bangladesh to take refuge in the country's network of cyclone shelters. Officials also travelled by speedboat to islands to warn residents to evacuate. "We started evacuating people from vulnerable coastal areas and our volunteers are using microphones asking people to take shelter in cyclone shelters," said Asraf Shameen, administrative chief of southeastern Chittagong district. Tropical Cyclone Sidr, raging over the Bay of Bengal, was moving towards Bangladesh's southern coastal districts bordering India and was likely to hit land later Thursday, said Bazlur Rashid of the Bangladesh weather department. The cyclone, packing ferocious winds and heavy rains, was set to unleash tidal surges of up to six metres in some areas, Rashid said. "The storm is still strong and we expect it to hit in the evening. The most vulnerable districts are Khulna and Barisal," he said. An official weather department bulletin posted at 0300 GMT said the cyclone was about 500 kilometres from Chittagong. Fishing boats have been ordered to remain in port until further notice. Officials said Bangladesh's many coastal islands, whose shifting sand banks are home to some of the country's poorest people, were most at risk from the cyclone. Chittagong airport and sea port were also closed, officials added. In neighbouring India's West Bengal state, which shares a border with Bangladesh, officials have also been evacuating coastal villages and warning of gale force winds from the enormous storm system. "The cyclone has a diametre of about 500 kilometres with a wall of clouds about 200 kilometres tall," Ladu Ram Meena, deputy director of the weather centre for India's eastern region, told AFP. But Indian predictions say the cyclone will make landfall only early Friday, with its first hit on a group of southern Indian islands before striking Bangladesh. "The cyclone is likely to hit Sagar island and coastal villages of West Bengal by Friday morning," Meena said. In 1970, some half a million people died when a cyclone hit Bangladesh, while an estimated 138,000 people died as a result of a cyclonic tidal wave in 1991. The lower death toll in 1991 was attributed to a network of cyclone shelters and a warning system introduced after the 1970 disaster.