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Early warning saves lives as Cyclone Mora strikes Bangladesh and Sri Lanka

Volunteer teams from the Bangladesh Red Crescent were out in full-force this weekend as Cyclone Mora barreled towards the South Asian country. Volunteers helped their neighbors before the storm struck—working with local government authorities to evacuate more than one million people from low-lying coastal areas such as Chittagong, Cox’s Bazar, Noakhali, Laxmipur, Feni, and some of the offshore islands. Red Crescent teams spread early warnings in communities via megaphone and also helped families find safety in storm shelters.

The cyclone made landfall yesterday along Bangladesh’s southwest coastline. The storm was packing winds between 55-72 miles per hour and throughout the day, high winds and heavy rains have battered several districts in the region.

The Bangladesh meteorological office has warned that coastal areas could face flooding as a result of 3-6 meter storm surges along the sea front. The cyclone—which had brought days of heavy rains and flooding to Sri Lanka—intensified as it crossed the Bay of Bengal before hitting the coast of Bangladesh.

“We are already receiving reports that there has been extensive wind damage that left many shelters along the coast in tatters,” said Azmat Ulla, of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Bangladesh.

Of particular concern is the plight of thousands of migrants who recently arrived in the district of Cox’s Bazar from Rakhine State in neighboring Myanmar. Virtually all of this population are dependent on emergency humanitarian aid for their daily subsistence.

“Many of these people lived in makeshift shelters which have most likely not weathered the storm well,” remarked Ulla. “Cyclones hit this coastline every year and we know that one of the biggest needs will be to provide people with emergency shelter materials.”

More than 50,000 Cyclone Preparedness Program volunteers mobilized to support evacuation and early warning efforts. This action—which was essential to saving lives—was buttressed by the American Red Cross’s investment in the country’s short-wave radio and community warning system. Alongside the Bangladesh government and the Bangladesh Red Crescent, the American Red Cross helped repair the country’s Cyclone Preparedness Program telecommunications systems (130 HF/VHF stations in coastal districts), supported training of HF/VHF operators, trained volunteers in targeted districts, and provided equipment necessary for early warnings such as signal flags, sirens, megaphones, batteries, flashlights, boots, hardhats, raincoats, umbrellas, t-shirts and the life jackets in the photos above.

The day before the cyclone made landfall, the Bangladesh Red Crescent distributed cash grants to more than 2,500 households to help them prepare for or respond to the storm. The grants of 5,000 taka (approximately 67 USD) were distributed through the Red Cross Red Crescent’s ‘Forecast-based-financing’ mechanism. This innovative program is supported by the German Red Cross and German government and is designed to help families better meet their immediate needs when disasters strike. It is activated when specific weather conditions are anticipated and are likely to impact communities living in certain high-risk areas.

Bangladesh Red Crescent disaster response teams with first aid and search-and-rescue equipment are on standby together with mobile water purification kits.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka is in the grip of its worst flooding in 14 years. According to the government, more than 200 people have been killed and 470,000 have been affected. Persistent and heavy rains have triggered widespread flooding and landslides in many areas, particularly in the southwest of the country.

With bad weather set to continue, there are concerns that the situation will worsen. Sri Lanka Red Cross volunteers and staff have been on the frontline of the humanitarian response, providing life-saving first aid, assisting with search, rescue, and evacuation efforts—and distributing food, water and relief supplies to thousands.

For live updates, follow @IFRCAsiaPacific

Media: Interviews and audio-visual materials available.

In Bangladesh:

Azmat Ulla, Head of Country Office, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent

+880 17 115 21615 | Azmat.ulla@ifrc.org

In Myanmar

Ms. Shwe Cin Myint – Director, International Relations Department, Myanmar Red Cross

+95 9 977115600 | shwecinmyint@redcross.org.mm

In Sri Lanka:

Mahieash Johnney

+94 773 502 156 | mahieash.johnney@redcross.lk

In Washington DC:

24/7 media line: 202-303-5551

About the American Red Cross:

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or cruzrojaamericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.