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Cyclone smashes into Bangladesh coast


DHAKA (AFP) — A fierce cyclone packing extreme winds and torrential rain smashed into Bangladesh's southwestern coast Thursday, wiping out homes and trees in what officials described as the worst storm in years.

The eye of cyclone Sidr, visible in satellite images as a colossal swirling white mass racing north from the Bay of Bengal, hit land in an impoverished coastal area near Bangladesh's border with India.

"The cyclone has battered Bangladeshi coastal areas. The velocity of the wind in that area is 220 to 240 kilometres (140 to 155 miles and hour). (This) is a violent storm," said Samarendra Karmakar, the head of the Bangladeshi meteorological department.

The storm matched one in 1991 that sparked a tidal wave that killed an estimated 138,000 people, Karmakar told AFP.

But he said he was optimistic a major effort this time to evacuate villages and place people in special shelters could mean low-lying Bangladesh -- one of the world's poorest countries -- would escape significant loss of life.

"It is not less severe than the 1991 cyclone, in some places it is more severe. But we are expecting less casualties this time because the government took early measures. We alerted people to be evacuated early," he said.

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