Skip to main content

Bangladesh, Myanmar prepare for arrival of Cyclone Mahasen

By Jethro Mullen, CNN
May 28, 2013 -- Updated 1139 GMT (1939 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tropical Cyclone Mahasen is moving toward the Bangladesh coast
  • A U.N. agency warns that millions of people could be in danger
  • The storm is expected to be weaker than hurricane strength when it reaches land
  • There are concerns about the safety of Muslims living in low-lying camps in Myanmar

(CNN) -- Residents of coastal areas in Bangladesh and Myanmar are preparing for the arrival of a large storm that is rumbling toward them across the Bay of Bengal, with a U.N. agency warning that more than 8 million people could be in danger.

The storm, Tropical Cyclone Mahasen, is forecast to make landfall late Thursday or early Friday in southeastern Bangladesh, near the city of Chittagong. It is likely to bring strong wind and heavy rain to the surrounding region.

On Myanmar's western coast, there are concerns about the safety of tens of thousands of Muslims who are living in makeshift camps in low-lying areas after their homes were destroyed in sectarian violence last year.

"Mahasen could be life threatening for millions of people in Bangladesh, Myanmar and India," Valerie Amos, the U.N.'s top official for humanitarian affairs, said in a statement Tuesday.

The number of people the storm will affect depends on the exact path it plows across the region and its strength when it reaches land.

Tropical Cyclone Mahasen heads for shore
Refugee camp braces for cyclone
CNN Explains: Tropical cyclones

Aid agencies and local authorities are scrambling to make sure residents are as prepared as possible, taking measures that include moving people at risk to higher ground and putting emergency supplies in position.

"There is a flurry of activity going on both in Bangladesh and in Myanmar ahead of the storm," Andreas Von Weissenberg of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent said Wednesday. "It's really a race against time in many ways."

The latest prediction suggests Mahasen will bring wind gusts of 85 to 90 kilometers per hour (53 to 56 mph) to the Bangladeshi coast, CNN International meteorologist Ivan Cabrera said.

That puts it at the level of a tropical storm, he said, weaker than the 120-kilometer-per-hour gusts of a hurricane.

"This will be a rain event for most in the area," Cabrera said. "If you are in a concrete building, you will be fine outside of localized very heavy flooding."

The floods could cause problems in low-lying areas, particularly the flimsy camps in Myanmar's Rakhine state.

As the storm approaches, Myanmar authorities and relief agencies have begun working to relocate tens of thousands of the camps' inhabitants.

Most of them are Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority who suffered during decades of military rule in Myanmar.

Sectarian violence erupted in Rakhine last year between Buddhists and Muslims, resulting in the deaths of scores of people, the majority of them Rohingya. Since then, more than 100,000 Muslims have been forced to live in camps.

In a report last month, the advocacy group Human Rights Watch accused Myanmar authorities of involvement in a Buddhist campaign of "ethnic cleansing" against the Rohingya in Rakhine. The Myanmar government dismissed the report as "one-sided."

The efforts to relocate some of the displaced Rohingya living in the camps appear to have been hindered by distrust of the security forces involved.

Some of those in the camps "are reluctant to relocate, and some communities have refused to use military vehicles or to shelter in military barracks," the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in an update on the situation Tuesday. Alternative relocation sites are being sought, it said.

On Monday night, a boat ferrying people from one camp in Rakhine to safer areas hit rocks and capsized, the OCHA said, citing the government. Fifty-eight people are believed to still be missing from the accident. Some survived, and an unspecified number died, the agency said.

Bangladesh authorities appear to be well organized for the storm's possible threat to the low-lying and densely populated nation.

As many as 50,000 volunteers are giving out early warnings, providing advice, helping people relocate and preparing to give first aid and distribute relief items, Von Weissenberg said.

Bangladesh has learned to take a cautious approach to storms after the catastrophic impact of Cyclone Bhola in 1970 that is estimated to have killed 400,000 people, according to the OCHA.

CNN's Brian Walker contributed to this report from Hong Kong and Saeed Ahmed from Dhaka, Bangladesh.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 21, 2014 -- Updated 1746 GMT (0146 HKT)
The tragic killing of two cops could not have happened at a worse time for a city embroiled in a bitter public battle over police-community relations, Errol Louis says.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1327 GMT (2127 HKT)
North Korea warns the United States that U.S. "citadels" will be attacked, dwarfing the hacking attack on Sony that led to the cancellation of a comedy film's release.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 0251 GMT (1051 HKT)
The gateway to Japan's capital, Tokyo Station, is celebrating its centennial this month -- and it's never looked better.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
More than 1.7 million children in conflict-torn areas of eastern Ukraine face an "extremely serious" situation, Unicef has warned.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1322 GMT (2122 HKT)
Boko Haram's latest abductions may meet a weary global reaction, Nigerian journalist Tolu Ogunlesi says.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1034 GMT (1834 HKT)
Drops, smudges, pools of blood are everywhere -- but in the computer room CNN's Nic Robertson reels from the true horror of the Peshawar school attack.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
The gunman behind the deadly siege in Sydney this week was not on a security watch list, and Australia's Prime Minister wants to know why.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 0948 GMT (1748 HKT)
Bestselling author Marjorie Liu had set her sights on being a lawyer, but realized it wasn't what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
CNN's Matthew Chance looks into an HRW report saying Russia has "legalized discrimination against LGBT people."
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 0212 GMT (1012 HKT)
The Sydney siege has brought home some troubling truths to Australians. They are not immune to what are often called "lone-wolf" terror attacks.
Bill Cosby has kept quiet as sexual assault allegations mounted against him, but his wife, Camille, finally spoke out in defense of her husband.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1701 GMT (0101 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT