DACCA, East Pakistan -- A cyclone and accompanying tidal waves 30 feet high struck the coastal islands and southern shores of East Pakistan yesterday with such force some islands were reported wiped off the map.
Reports filtering into this provincial capital today indicated a major disaster was at hand with a death toll running into the thousands.
Newspapers said heavily-populated Hatiya Island remained under 20 feet of water until yesterday afternoon. The Daily Purbodesh and Daily News said officials feared half of the island's 162,701 population may have perished. The newspaper reports were not confirmed.
Many of the 2,000 offshore islands in the Bay of Bengal southeast of Calcutta were struck by cyclone winds up to 150 miles an hour and 30-foot tidal waves which raged Thursday night and early yesterday. Most remained cut off from communications, including Dabla Island where 13,000 Hindu pilgrims had gathered for religious rites under a full moon, an auspicious occasion for Hindus.
Pakistani officials dispatched a motor launch to check on reports all or most of the pilgrims were drowned.
Reports from unofficial sources repeatedly spoke of islands either missing or still inundated 24 hours after the giant storm.
It was the ninth deadly cyclone to strike East Pakistan in 10 years and appeared to have caused damage in an area of 10,000 square miles with a population of 5 million.
Correspondent Kamaluddin Ahmed of the Eastern News Agency visited the coastal zone and said he counted 350 floating bodies. Others were stuck in tree branches or lying in paddy fields. He reported after a partial survey of the damaged coast that scores of other persons were dying.
Ahmed reported 90 per cent of the houses were destroyed along the 300 mile coastal belt between Noakhali and Chittagong. He said thousands of cattle perished and there was heavy damage to standing crops. Storm damage also extended inland into the Khuina and Barisal districts, 100 miles southwest of Dacca.
A pilot Abdur Rahman of the East Pakistan Flying Club, said "a big sea-going ship was torn apart northwest of offshore Barissal Island and a cargo ship was grounded to the northeast."
An Indian ship, M.V. Jagamitra, put out an SOS call Thursday night but its fate was unknown.
Government sources said the death toll on Hatiya Island might be enormous. A government doctor in a message relayed to Dacca said "several thousand perished when tidal core hit Hatiya and the cyclone has blown off 90 per cent of the houses."
Two officers of the Pakistan River Steamer Company, who flew over devastated Bhola Island, reported "there was hardly any sight of life in the island's coastal belt and the entire island was under knee-deep water until yesterday afternoon."