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Flood Waters Wash Children Away Before Parents’ Eyes With PM-Bangladesh, Bjt

May 2, 1991

KUTUBDIA, Bangladesh (AP) _ Before he blacked out, Mufizur Rahman saw waves ″as high as mountains″ sweep toward his village with a powerful roar.

He regained consciousness hours later to find his wife, son and three daughters had been swept away. There was little left of his small coastal village where his forefathers had settled.

″I have lost everything. I have lost everything. God, why has it happened to me?″ Rahman repeated over and over, sobbing helplessly.

Kutubdia Island off the east coast was directly in the path of a savage cyclone on record to hit this impoverished country on the Bay of Bengal. The storm, with 145 mph winds, pounded the entire coast for eight hours Tuesday.

The 55-year-old farmer, his clothes in tatters, said he didn’t believe warnings that the storm would strike his village of Vijandya.

And if he had, there were few boats that could survive the rough seas and take them to safety, he said.

When a mainland reporter visited the island, bloated corpses were floating near the shore alongside dead cattle. Villagers frantically waved to an approaching speedboat, apparently seeking help.

The government today put the death toll at more than 37,000. Unofficial estimates said the death toll could surpass 100,000.

″At least 35,000 people have been killed in Kutubdia, and 15,000 in nearby Maheshkhali island,″ said Jalal Ahmed, a local parliamentarian touring the stricken area.

Another villager, Rabeya Begum, said her husband was fatally bitten by a snake when he tried to grab a floating banana tree on which to perch his infant son. He died on the spot, and the son drowned, she said.

Shafi Alam said he lost six members of his family, but he saved one son by tying him to a coconut tree.

Food supplies and cattle were washed away.

The islanders were short of medicine, drinking water and fuel or wood. Only a half dozen buildings were seen to be still standing, and thousands of huts were dissolved in swirling sea water.

Cyclone shelters in several parts of Kutubdia and Maheshkhali were flooded by seven feet of water. From a boat, survivors could be seen jamming the upper floors of the two-story brick buildings.

In Moghnama, a coastal village on Maheshkhali, more than 3,500 people were crammed into a cyclone shelter built for 1,000. Almost all were women and children.

Many people refused to heed the storm warnings, said Jamaluddin Chowdhry, a rescue worker with the Red Crescent Society. The last 11 times warnings had been issued, the cyclones did not hit the area.

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