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
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1443 GMT (2243 HKT)
A captured fighter tells CNN's Ivan Watson: "They gave us drugs... that made you go to battle."
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 1331 GMT (2131 HKT)
A terminally ill woman who plans to take her own life checks off the last item.
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 2340 GMT (0740 HKT)
In a plot straight out of Hollywood, federal agents gain access to a suspected Triad boss' Vegas hotel room by pretending to fix the Internet connection.
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 0434 GMT (1234 HKT)
Was it only black and Latino men who harassed a woman in NYC? The filmmaker has found himself in a race controversy.
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
The history of human rights often overlooks the struggles of gay people. This must change.
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 0115 GMT (0915 HKT)
Armed with Kalashnikovs and chanting for the dead comrades, women are among ISIS' most feared enemies. They are fighting for their families -- and now they are getting U.S. help.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1246 GMT (2046 HKT)
Lere Mgayiya put his best foot forward and set up a shoe-shine firm after his career plans fell flat.
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 0528 GMT (1328 HKT)
One Chinese drone manufacturer wants to take away the warmongering stigma of "drones."
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 0312 GMT (1112 HKT)
Sketcher Luis Simoes is traveling the world -- slowly. And he's packed his sketchbook.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
European states help North Korea's brutal treatment of its people by allowing luxury goods like cars and cognacs to evade sanctions, two experts say.
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 0345 GMT (1145 HKT)
Chinese leaders want less odd architecture built in the country.
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 1104 GMT (1904 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