By Mainul Islam Khan
DHAKA, Bangladesh (AA) - At least 20 people have been killed -- and scores injured -- by Cyclone "Roanu", which pounded Bangladesh on Saturday, according to local emergency officials.
The head of the country’s disaster management agency, Mohammed Reaz Ahmed, told Bangladesh’s official Sangbad Sangstha news agency: "So far we have counted 20 deaths, but this figure may rise further."
The most affected area was in the port district of Chittagong in the country’s northwest, where nine people were killed.
And at least another seven people were killed in the sub-district of Chittagong-Bashkhali, according to local police officials.
"In terms of infrastructure and other damage, meanwhile, Chittagong suffered the most, with the cyclone damaging some 40,000 homesteads and businesses in the district alone," Ahmed said.
A bulletin issued by Dhaka’s metropolitan office said that, as of 6am local time Saturday, radar had found the cyclone to have advanced to about 255 kilometers west-southwest of Chittagong Port, 230 kilometers west-southwest of Cox's Bazar Port, 190 kilometers south of Mongla Port and 135 kilometers south of Payra Port.
"It is likely to move in an east-north-easterly direction further and may cross the Barisal-Chittagong coast," the bulletin read.
On Friday, the metropolitan office changed its "local warning signals" to "danger signals" for all four seaports.
A massive evacuation campaign has since been launched, meanwhile, aimed at moving citizens to safer areas.
Concerned government ministries have cancelled weekends for their officials in Bangladesh’s 18 coastal districts, while some 50,000 trained volunteers remain on standby under a cyclone preparedness program.
The authorities have also suspended ferry services in all the country’s main waterways.
The Chittagong Port Authority, for its part, has instructed ships to moor in outlying anchorages or inside mainland rivers for safety.
Due to its geographical location at the head of the Bay of Bengal and its sizeable coastline, Bangladesh is prone to cyclones.
In 1970 and 1991, the country was hit by two deadly cyclones that claimed some 500,000 and 140,000 lives respectively.
Within the last 20 years, however, Bangladesh has managed to reduce the number cyclone-related casualties, with a major cyclone in 2007 causing roughly 4,000 deaths.