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Eyewitness account reveals devastating impact of cyclone in southern Bangladesh

© UNICEF/HQ07-1702/Noorani
Woman in Bangladesh stands in front of her destroyed family home along with her husband, who holds their youngest child.

UNICEF Communication Officer Zafrin Chowdhury provided the following eyewitness account of the effects of Cyclone Sidr, based on reporting via telephone from UNICEF District Project Officer A. H. Towfique Ahmed in Barisal, a district in southern Bangladesh.

BARISAL, Bangladesh, 19 November 2007 – The winds howled all night and the rain came down in sheets. The following morning, A. H. Towfique Ahmed set out to visit the local area. He found that Cyclone Sidr had rocked the coast of Bangladesh to destruction.

It was a quiet morning; an uneasy calm prevailed in the usually busy township. Mr. Ahmed was accompanied by Dr. Baset, Barisal District’s Director of Health, as they walked down the main road towards several badly hit locations. They could not see very far on either side of the road and had some difficulty in going any distance, as almost every tree had been uprooted during the storm and many lay scattered across the road.

A young family perishes

After some time, they came to a clearing where several local men were groping about in the mud. When asked what they were doing, the men replied that they were searching for the roofs of their houses that had blown away the night before. They had no houses left, but the roofs would provide some shelter if only they could find them.

© UNICEF/HQ07-1702/Noorani
Daughter helps her mother move a damaged tin roof as they try to reconstruct their home, which was destroyed by Cyclone Sidr.

The two men reached a construction site where three dead bodies were lined up in a row. Ali Hossain, 25, his wife Poppy, 20, and their eight-month-old son Adnan had all died on the spot when a huge rain tree fell on their house, which collapsed.

Those who lived in the adjoining houses had left, but this small family had wanted to protect the young child from the tempest. They were waiting for the storm to subside when the tree fell. The following morning, it had taken several people over two hours to remove the tree and get the bodies out. Onlookers stood by in shocked silence.

Storm surge causes ‘wall of water’

Further up the road, Mr. Ahmed and Dr. Baset met a local fruit seller who told them his story. He said he had decided to wait out the storm to guard his well stocked shop. Having packed all his fruits and belongings, he was in the process of lashing them to the roof of his shed to keep them from being blown away, when he heard the rushing sound.

The fruit seller recalled looking over his shoulder and seeing a wall of rushing water that was taller than the trees. He reached for his money belt as the water rose to his knees. As he turned to make his way out, he found himself completely submerged. The first wave passed and he surfaced, trying desperately to swim toward the main road, which was then the only place above water.

He reached the road and had been sitting there until his encounter with Mr. Ahmed and Dr. Baset.

Closer to the sea, the eyewitnesses found the landscape completely changed. The coastline of Bhola is clean and quiet. Entire villages have been swept away. There is no sign that 500 homes once stood in Joynagar, a village by the sea.



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