May 16, 2013 / 2:30 AM / 7 years ago

Cyclone Mahasen buffets Bangladesh coast, six dead

CHITTAGONG, Bangladesh (Reuters) - 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.

Neighboring 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.

Media said the death toll was 10, with some people killed by falling trees. About 50 people were injured, media said.

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.

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.

People carry their belongings as they move to a shelter as cyclone Mahasen approaches, in Cox's Bazar May 15, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

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


Myanmar’s government had planned to move 38,000 internally displaced people by Tuesday from camps in Rakhine State in the west, most of them Rohingya Muslims who lost their homes in 2012 during violence between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingyas.

Many had refused to relocate, afraid of the authorities’ intentions, but they changed their minds after strong wind and rain on Wednesday night.

At a camp near the state capital of Sittwe, a Reuters reporter saw Rohingya loading belongings into trucks provided by humanitarian groups, the U.N. refugee agency and the government.

Barbara Manzi, a U.N. humanitarian official in Myanmar, said women and children were moving to shelters in a nearby village, while the men would stay at the camp.

Bangladeshi police in the town of Teknaf, near the Myanmar border, told Reuters that 23 bodies washed up on the coast, and they were believed to be victims of a sinking off Myanmar.

A boat carrying about 100 Rohingyas fleeing from the storm capsized off western Myanmar on Monday night and many of them were feared drowned. Bangladeshi police said the bodies included 12 children and six women.

The storm had not hit that area badly so the dead were not believed to be victims of Mahasen and some of the dead were found with Myanmar currency. Villagers buried them, police said.

Myanmar is a mainly Buddhist country but about 5 percent of its 60 million people are Muslims, including the Rohingya, who are denied citizenship and considered by many Buddhists to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Slideshow (11 Images)

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.

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

Meteorologists said mudslides could still be a danger as heavy rain spreads farther north and east on Thursday night and Friday into easternmost India and northern Myanmar.

Additional reporting by Jared Ferrie in SITTWE, Serajul Quadir and Ruma Paul in DHAKA, Nazimuddin Shyamol in CHITTAGONG, Nurul Islam in COX'S BAZAR; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Ron Popeski

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