The Met Office on Wednesday evening flagged great danger signal 10 as cyclonic storm Sidr in the Bay of Bengal strengthened. It is likely to cross the Khulna-Barisal coast this noon.

The minimum sustained wind speed within 74km of the storm centre is about 190kmph, rising to 210kmph in gusts and squalls, a special bulletin of the Storm Warning Centre said.

The army, navy, police, Rapid Action Battalion and other forces in the coastal areas have been asked by the authorities to stand by in case of any emergency.

The storm with a core of hurricane winds over the east central Bay moved northwards, strengthened further and was centred at 6:00pm Wednesday about 755km south-southwest of Chittagong Port, 675km south-southwest of Cox’s Bazar and 705km south of Mongla Port.

The sea will remain very high and the maritime port of Mongla has been advised to flag great danger signal 10. Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar have been asked to flag great danger signal 9.

Under the influence of the storm, the coastal districts of Cox’s Bazar, Chittagong, Noakhali, Lakshmipur, Bhola, Barisal, Patuakhali, Barguna, Chandpur, Pirojpur, Jhalakathi, Bagerhat, Khulna, Satkhira and their offshore islands are likely to experience gusty and squally winds packing a speed of 60kmph to 80kmph or more.

The low areas of the costal districts and their offshore islands are likely to be inundated by storm surges of 8 to 10 feet above normal astronomical tide.

All the fishing boats and trawlers in the north Bay have been advised to remain in shelter until further notice, the Storm Warning Centre bulletin said.

Evacuation of people from coastal areas of Chittagong, including Anwara, Sandwip, Sitakunda and Banskhali, began at night, the Chittagong deputy commissioner, Ashraf Shamim, told New Age Wednesday night.

Chittagong airport was declared closed and all aircraft of the air force were flown away to safe destinations.

The local administration used loud-hailers to ask people to move to safe places, sources in the administration and the Red Crescent Society said.

Chittagong started experiencing drizzle Wednesday evening and the Chittagong port authorities suspended loading and unloading of cargos on the mother vessels in the outer anchorage as the sea had turned turbulent, a port official said.

Thousands of coastguards, police personnel, army men and volunteers have been kept standby for emergency rescue and relief operations once the storm makes the landfall.

Bangladesh’s main tourist resort, Cox’s Bazar, wore a deserted look on Wednesday and hotels remained largely empty, officials and witnesses said.

Reports from India said the West Bengal capital Kolkata may face ‘squally winds and heavy rainfall.’ The neighboring state of Orissa would also be affected.

The district administration in Chittagong has set up a control room and the disaster management committee at a meeting directed the local administration to remain prepared to face the situation.

The Chittagong Port Authority has set up two control rooms and directed all the vessels in the outer anchorage to go for safe locations if the situation worsens, sources said.

The Chittagong City Corporation has set up a control room at Dampara and the acting city mayor, M Manjur Alam, urged the ward commissioners to make all preparations to evacuate people, if required.

The mayor said they had kept vehicles, medicines, dry food, medical teams and adequate manpower standby to face the situation.

The Shah Amanat International Airport manager, Wing Commander Sazzad Hossain, said they had set up a control room and dragged aircraft to safe places.

Water transport operations along 76 coastal and domestic routes in the Barisal division stopped because of the stormy weather.

The New Age correspondent in Barisal said the port authorities had stopped the operation of the vessels of less than 65 feet in length on 28 domestic routes in Barisal, 21 routes in Patuakhali, 13 routes in Barguna, 14 routes in Bhola and coastal services on five routes in the Barisal-Bhola-Lakshmipur-Chittagong region because of the stormy weather.

The Barisal Port Authority said the operation of motor launches would not resume until weather condition improved.

Tourists left the Kuakata beach in the adverse weather condition. Local authorities and volunteers of the Cyclone Preparedness Programme under the Red Crescent Society were monitoring the situation and asked people to prepare to move to safe places on short notices any moment.

AHM Saleh, official of the Barisal Red Crescent preparedness programme, said regular wireless contacts with their units were on. They informed the units of the condition of the river estuaries. He said the sea had remained rough with high waves and strong tides with gusty winds since Wednesday afternoon.

The weather warning left at least 100 tourists trapped on St Martins Island as ships and country boats were ordered off the sea.