“We are here in the blackest black of darkness and God only knows what’s coming our way next,” Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury told Canada Free Press (CFP) in a static-charged telephone interview a few minutes ago.
“How many are dead? There are many more dead than the 500 reported by the Bangladesh government,” Choudhury said. “Untold thousands of people are still missing and that is one reason the fatalities cannot be accurately reported.”
Although hit by flying debris and facing chaos all around them, Choudhury and his immediate family members came through last night’s severe cyclone without loss to life or limb. That news was relief to Chicago professor Richard Benkin, who Choudhury calls “my brother”.
To get an inkling of the scope of the massive loss of life in the aftermath of the cyclone, one thousand fishermen alone are missing.
Fishing is a way of life in this poverty-stricken country and although storm warnings were repeatedly made in advance of the coming cyclone, many small craft are not equipped with radios and put out to sea each day with only the confidence that comes from word of mouth. Before the count for missing boats got underway, at least 150 trawlers were missing.
Collapsing houses and flying debris were the two main factors in fatalities.
With world media attention focused on the cyclone, a devastating tidal wave was claiming its deadly toll.
“There has been a tremendous loss to the huge mangrove forest in the southern part of the country and the tremendous loss to our wildlife will be staggering,” Choudhury told CFP.
Although the inhabitants of cities like Dhaka were groping their way in the dark, Choudhury said the situation in the villages it is much worse “In the villages people are out on the roads with nowhere to go, and some of them fearing each other now that they lost their homes and everything they ever had.”
All cell phones are still out in Bangladesh, but the telephone in Choudhury’s home was working the morning after Cyclone Sidr, with its 250 kph (155) winds struck.
On the coast, 15-foot- (5-metre) high tidal waves wiped out three coastal towns, forcing 3.2 million people to evacuate.
Friday is a holiday in the primarily Moslem country, and Choudhury who didn’t have to go to his office was confident that the headquarters of his publication, The Weekly Blitz would still be standing.
Darkness came for Dhaka and other major cities across the country at sunset. Power plants and most distribution systems damaged by the cyclone could take up to three days to restore services, according to power department officials.
Disease and looting are concerns to go along with mass hunger even before mop up can begin.
Agriculture officials said rice and other crops in the cyclone-battered areas had been badly damaged, adding to the suffering of villagers who had lost two crops in the floods.
“Life shall never be easy,” said Mohammad Salam, a farmer in Khulna. “We are destined to suffer”.
According to the International Herald Tribune, “Storms batter the poor, disaster-prone country every year. A severe cyclone killed half a million people in 1970, while another in 1991 killed 143,000. Many of the country’s 140 million people live around the low-lying river deltas that criss-cross the country and are especially vulnerable to tidal surges.”
Choudhury, who works with Dr. Richard L. Benkin on “strengthening the bonds of understanding of different faiths”, had only returned to his home country from Monaco where he was presented with the international Monaco Media Forum prize, presented by Prince Albert 11, only two days before the cyclone hit.
The celebrated journalist who was arrested in 2005 on his way to visit Israel and imprisoned for 17 months by Bangladeshi’s Muslim government was held in court all day yesterday, where Judge Azizul revoked his bond.
(Choudhury in court developing…).
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Judi McLeod is an award-winning journalist with 30 years’ experience in the print media. A former Toronto Sun columnist, she also worked for the Kingston Whig Standard. Her work has appeared on Rush Limbaugh, Newsmax.com, Drudge Report, Foxnews.com, and Glenn Beck.
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