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Bangladeshis hunker down in storm shelters as cyclone Bulbul nears

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By Reuters

By Serajul Quadir

DHAKA (Reuters) – Thousands of Bangladeshis, mostly women and children, huddled in shelters in southwestern coastal areas on Saturday as the country prepared for the expected arrival of cyclone Bulbul, a senior government official said.

Several coastal districts were expected to register wind speeds of up to 120 kilometres per hour (74.5 miles per hour) and heavy or very heavy rainfall, the Bangladesh Meteorological Department said in its latest forecast.

It said low-lying areas and islands were likely to see storm surges between five and seven feet (1.5-2.1 metres) higher than normal maximum tide levels.

More than 3,000 shelters in 13 coastal districts have been opened and have enough room for some 1.8 million people, said Enamur Rahman, junior minister for disaster management and relief.

“We have taken all precautionary measures to tackle the situation and to keep property and human losses at minimum levels,” he told Reuters on Saturday.

The cyclone season in the Bay of Bengal can last from April to December. In 1999, a super-cyclone battered the coast of India’s Odisha state for 30 hours, killing 10,000 people.

Since then, technological advances have helped weather forecasters track the cyclones more accurately, giving authorities more time to prepare, and a mass evacuation of nearly a million people saved thousands of lives in 2013.

In neighbouring India, the eastern states of West Bengal and Odisha have received heavy rainfall since early Saturday and both the states’ coasts could get very heavy rainfall during the next 24 hours, the India Meteorological Department said.

In Odisha, hundreds of trees were uprooted due to the high winds and thousands of people living in low-lying areas have been evacuated to shelters, the state government said on Twitter.

National Disaster Response Force teams have been moved to Odisha and West Bengal to assist local authorities, a government official said.

(Additional reporting by Rajendra Jadhav in Mumbai; Editing by Alexandra Ulmer and Helen Popper)