Cyclone Mahasen buffets Bangladesh, six dead

Tropical Cyclone Mahasen began to lash the coast of Bangladesh with heavy rain Thursday, bringing the risk of flooding and landslides to densely populated, low-lying communities

Cyclone Mahasen buffets Bangladesh, six dead

World Bulletin/News Desk

Cyclone Mahasen buffeted Bangladesh's low-lying coast on Thursday, killing six people after forcing many thousands into emergency shelters, but authorities downgraded warnings later in the day as the storm lost strength.

A storm surge did cause some flooding along the coast at high tide and thousands of rickety huts were destroyed by torrential rain and wind, but the devastation was not as bad as had been feared.

Neighbouring Myanmar, where there were fears for the safety of many thousands of internally displaced people living in camps, also appeared to have been largely spared.

The storm was moving northeast, into northeastern India, as it lost strength, meteorological officials said.

"It has now crossed over coastal areas and is a land depression over Bangladesh and adjoining areas of India and will gradually weaken further," Mohammad Shah Alam, the director of the Bangladesh Meteorological Department, told Reuters.

Earlier, winds of up to 100 kph (60 mph) lashed the coast, whipping up big waves as the United Nations warned that 4.1 million people could be threatened.

A Bangladeshi army official at an control centre set up to help with relief work said six people had been killed.

Some media said the death toll was nine, with some of them killed by falling trees.

About 50 people were injured, according to media reports.

Bangladesh, where storms have in the past killed many thousands of people, has more than 1,400 cyclone-proof buildings and many people moved into them as Mahasen approached.

The storm killed at least seven people and displaced 3,881 in Sri Lanka as it tracked across the Bay of Bengal towards Bangladesh.

TIMBER AND PALM

But across its southeastern border in Myanmar, tens of thousands of people on the coast sheltered in camps and huts made of timber and palm fronds.

In 2008, Cyclone Nargis killed up to 140,000 people in Myanmar's Irrawaddy delta, south of the main city, Yangon.

A boat carrying Arakan Muslims in neighbouring Myanmar capsized at around midnight on Monday after hitting rocks off Pauktaw in Rakhine State while evacuating ahead of the storm. Official media said 42 people were rescued, but 58 were missing.

"The government has ordered the evacuation of about one million people from 15 coastal districts," said the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

"As per the latest storm trajectory, 4.1 million people have been identified as living in at risk areas in the districts of Chittagong and Cox's Bazar," it said in its latest update.

The port in Chittagong, which has a population of about three million, and the airport in Cox's Bazar were closed on Wednesday.

Meteorologists said Mahasen should weaken quickly into a tropical rain depression over land.

"Mudslides will also be a concern as the heavy rain spreads farther north and east on Thursday night and Friday into easternmost India and northern Myanmar," said meteorologists at Accuweather.com storm forecasters.

"PRAY TO ALLAH"

Bangladesh has more than 1,400 cyclone-proof buildings on standby, but across its eastern border in Myanmar tens of thousands of people on the coast were sheltering in makeshift camps and huts made of timber and palm fronds.

In 2008, Cyclone Nargis killed up to 140,000 people in Myanmar's Irrawaddy delta, south of the main city, Yangon.

The U.S.-based Tropical Storm Risk said Mahasen should track northeast after hitting Chittagong, missing Myanmar.

The Myanmar government had planned to move 38,000 internally displaced people, most of them Arakan Muslims, by Tuesday but many have refused to relocate from camps in Rakhine State in the west of the country, afraid of the authorities' intentions.

At least 192 people were killed in June and October last year in violence between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingyas, who are denied citizenship by the government in Myanmar and considered by many Buddhists to be immigrants from Bangladesh.

At a camp near the sea on the outskirts of Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, several people told Reuters on Wednesday they would rather perish in the storm than evacuate.

"We arrived here last year because of the clashes between Rakhine and Muslims. I lost everything. Both my mother and my two young daughters died," said Hla Maung, 38, a Muslim. "If the cyclone hits here, I will pray to Allah. Everyone here wants to die in the storm because we lost everything last year."

Myanmar is a mainly Buddhist country but about 5 percent of its 60 million people are Muslims. They face a growing anti-Muslim campaign led by radical Buddhist monks. A Reuters Special Report found apartheid-like policies were segregating Muslims from Buddhists in Rakhine State.

 

Last Mod: 16 Mayıs 2013, 16:44
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