DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Tens of thousands of Bangladeshis returned Monday to wind-battered villages and rain-soaked fields after a strong storm pummeled the coast and killed at least 26 people over the weekend.
Authorities had ordered about 2 million people to be evacuated from coastal areas before Cyclone Roanu hit the port city of Chittagong on Saturday, but many ignored the call after deciding the storm’s winds, blowing at up to 88 kilometers (55 miles) per hour, were not such a threat. The low-lying delta nation has been regularly hit by much stronger storms.
Still, tens of thousands spent the weekend in cyclone shelters. Moheshkhali island council chief Mohammed Ullah says some 100,000 islanders returned to damaged and flooded homes Monday, and many who lost their stored food supplies were struggling to find enough to eat.
“They have to start anew,” Ullah said. “Many are surviving on just dry food, as their homes were submerged.”
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Local media reported at least 26 deaths caused by drowning or homes collapsing during the storm, though officials have yet to give a death toll.
Ullah said islanders on Moheshkhali were now in constant fear that a 28-kilometer (17-mile) stretch of mud embankment badly damaged in the storm will collapse and allow seawater to swamp their homes and fields.
Another 5,000 people in the village of Tajimuddin in Bhola district were also struggling to find enough to eat after the storm damaged their homes, according to the English-language Daily Star newspaper.
With millions living along the vulnerable coast, Bangladesh has worked to improve storm preparedness and to issue evacuation orders early to avoid high death tolls, such as the 300,000 killed in a single cyclone in 1970. When Cyclone Sidr hit in 2007, about 3,000 were reported killed.
The country has built thousands of raised concrete buildings to serve as cyclone shelters across the vast region.
Still, experts say Bangladesh will be increasingly vulnerable as climate change brings stronger storms and rising sea levels that will directly threaten low-lying coastal regions that are home to 160 million people densely packed into an area the size of the U.S. state of Wisconsin.