More than a million people evacuated as Cyclone Mahasen reaches Bangladesh

Major devastation avoided with weakening of storm on landfall

Children gather in a shelter house before cyclone Mahasen approaches in Chittagong on May 16th, 2013. Photograph: Reuters

Children gather in a shelter house before cyclone Mahasen approaches in Chittagong on May 16th, 2013. Photograph: Reuters

Fri, May 17, 2013, 01:00

Cyclone Mahasen struck the southern coast of Bangladesh yesterday lashing remote fishing villages with heavy rain and fierce winds that flattened mud and straw huts.

More than a million people had been evacuated as the cyclone approached but fears of massive devastation proved unfounded.

The UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs had earlier said that more than eight million people in Bangladesh, Burma and northeast India were at risk.

However, the main section of the storm had immediately begun weakening as it reached land, said Mohammad Shah Alam, director of the Bangladesh meteorological department.

Among the most vulnerable were tens of thousands of displaced Rohingya people living in plastic-roofed tents and huts made of reeds in dozens of refugee camps along Burma’s west coast.

Driven from their homes by violence, many members of the Muslim minority group refused to follow evacuation orders, saying they distrusted officials in the majority Buddhist country, where Rohingya have faced decades of discrimination.

Even before the storm hit at least 18 deaths relating to Mahasen had been reported in Bangladesh, Burma and Sri Lanka. Officials put the death toll on Thursday at 10. Though the number seemed relatively low, there was widespread disruption.

In Bangladesh, tens of thousands of people fled their shanty homes along the coast and packed into specially constructed cyclone shelters, schools, government office buildings and some of the 300 hotels in the port city of Cox’s Bazar to wait out the storm.

A 1991 cyclone that hit the country killed an estimated 139,000 people and left millions homeless. In 2008 Burma’s southern delta was devastated by cyclone Nargis, which swept away entire farming villages and killed more than 130,000 people.

Category 1
Both those cyclones were much more powerful than cyclone Mahasen, which is rated category 1, the weakest level.

The district of Barguna in southwest Bangladesh was the hardest hit, reporting seven dead and a massive power failure. Two people died in the southern Patuakhali district.

“Last night we moved about 110,000 people exposed to the cyclone at the district’s 360 cyclone shelters,” said Amitavh Sarker, deputy commissioner of Patuakhali.

Although assessments were continuing, Mr Sarker said that besides crops about 7,500 houses were damaged.

Scores of people may have died off the Burmese coast when overcrowded boats carrying more than 100 Rohingya capsized as they fled the cyclone on Monday.

Only 43 people had been rescued by yesterday, and more than 50 were still missing. – ( Guardian service)

Meanwhile, six people were dead and seven missing after a powerful tornado ripped through a neighbourhood that included housing for the poor in the north Texas town of Granbury, marking the deadliest severe storm outbreak in the United States so far this year. Authorities were assessing damage and searching through rubble yesterday afternoon, hoping to find survivors among the twisted metal and splintered wood of flattened homes.