Hundreds of thousands of people fled coastal Bangladesh on Monday as a cyclone with winds up to 130 mph threatened the same area where a storm killed 131,000 people in 1991.
As high waves lashed the shore, rescue workers used rowboats, pushcarts and rickshaws to evacuate many of the 7 million people living on some 50 islands and along the 250-mile coast.They were being taken to 900 brick storm shelters that have been built since 1991. But the shelters can only house 1 million people, so many other residents fled inland from their mud-and-thatch houses.
The St. Martin's islands, 9 miles off shore, was inundated with heavy wind-driven rain that breached the embankment of a fishing town of 4,000 people. Most townspeople crowded into two shelters Monday night.
Earlier in the day, rescue workers rushed through the lowlands using loudspeakers to urge people to move inland.
Waves were predicted to reach 15 feet and flood low-lying areas.
Bangladesh, a poor nation of 120 million people precariously built on river deltas, suffers from ruthless cycles of tropical storms, flooding and drought nearly every year.
More than 350,000 people reached shelters in the Cox's Bazar area, said local administrator Enamul Kabir. Rescue workers hoped to move another 300,000 there by sundown, he said.
"The killer is coming again. . . . Stop it, or else we shall all die," said Mohammad Karim, a fisherman who lost nine family members, including his wife, during the 1991 cyclone.
Karim was jammed into a two-story shelter with 1,500 other evacuees. "The cyclone took nearly everything from me before. Now it is coming again to take me," the 68-year-old said, crying and beating his chest.
Relief agencies said people were responding well to evacuation efforts. In 1991, after several false alarms, most people ignored calls to leave their homes.