Mass evacuations under way as Cyclone Mahesan hits Bangladesh coast | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 16.05.2013
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Mass evacuations under way as Cyclone Mahesan hits Bangladesh coast

Hundreds of thousands of people have taken refuge in shelters as Cyclone Mahesan washes the Bangladeshi coast. The storm is expected to hit heavily populated areas, including parts of Myanmar.

Khepupara on Bangladesh's southern coast was the first area hit by the storm on Thursday, with the storm moving north towards the ports of Chittagong and Cox's Bazar. The center of the storm is expected to reach the ports early Friday morning.

Low-lying coastal areas were covered in waist-deep water as the storm made landfall and trees were uprooted and houses damaged. River ferries and boats were suspended, while scores of factories near the Bay of Bengal were closed. At least five people have already been killed.

About seven deaths in Sri Lanka and 3,881 displaced people were attributed to the storm as it tracked across the Bay of Bengal towards Bangaldesh. A boat carrying Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar fleeing the storm capsized around midnight Monday after hitting rocks. Official said 42 people were rescued but 58 were still missing.

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Bay of Bengal cyclone approaches

Mass evacuations

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

The storm is a Category 1 cyclone - the weakest level. Mohammad Shal Alam, director of the Bangladesh Meteorlogical Department, told the AP news agency it could create winds as high as 120 kph (75 mph), with winds of 100 kph (62mph) already being reported west of Chittagong.

About 800,000 people spent the night in more than 2,000 shelters as well as schools and colleges along the Bangladesh coastline.

Myanmar refugee concern

Some 140,000 displaced people having been living in crowded refugee camps in Myanmar's Rakhine state since last year after two outbreaks of sectarian violence between Muslim minorities and Buddhists.

Nearly half of those displaced live in coastal areas considered especially vulnerable to Cyclone Mahesan.

Despite orders to leave, distrust of a government that does not recognize their citizenship has meant many Rohingya are staying put.

Cyclones have killed hundreds of thousands of people in Bangladesh and Myanmar in recent decades. In May 2008, Cyclone Nargis devastated Myanmar's Irrawaddy Delta, killing about 140,000 people. Cyclone Sidr killed at least 4,000 people in southern Bangladesh in November 2007.

dr/hc (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)

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