Cyclone Mahasen slammed into the coast of Bangladesh on Thursday, mostly skipping Myanmar’s western coast where tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees are living in low-lying areas.
The cyclone weakened to a tropical storm before it made landfall on Bangladesh’s southern coast early Thursday afternoon, bringing tidal surges, heavy rainfall, and strong winds to the region.
At least 14 people have been killed in Bangladesh from drowning and fallen trees, but fears of massive devastation both there and in neighboring Myanmar—which suffered a devastating cyclone in 2008—eased as the storm abated.
The fading tempest spared tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims living in flood-prone camps and temporary shelters in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where rights groups had warned of a looming humanitarian disaster.
Waves in northern Rakhine’s Maungdaw township reached heights of 2 meters (6 feet), while those in the state capital Sittwe hit 1.5 meters (5 feet), according to the local Irrawaddy online journal.
Kyaw Moe Oo, the deputy director-general of Myanmar’s Department of Meteorology, warned that even though the storm had bypassed the coast, the threat of flooding and landslides remained.
“People should be still careful of the heavy rain, flood, and landslides it will cause,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
Authorities had struggled over recent days to evacuate Rohingyas from the camps, where they had been living since two outbreaks of communal violence between Buddhist and Muslims last year.
Many camp residents, distrustful of the government, had refused to leave, prompting officials to issue a stern warning to those failing to comply with evacuation instructions.
Myanmar state media said that by Wednesday 70,000 people had been evacuated from the camps and vulnerable villages.
On Thursday, Bangladesh authorities found the bodies of 22 Rohingyas who had been missing since their boat capsized Monday as they fled the oncoming storm, according to Agence France-Presse. Authorities said the remaining 31 missing would likely wash ashore.
Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, saw its southwest coast devastated in 2008 by Cyclone Nargis, which killed more than 130,000 people.
Local people were left homeless and without food or water in its wake, complaining that the country’s then-ruling military junta had deliberately blocked aid to victims of the catastrophic storm.
They also said officials hindered private attempts to plug the gap, and an unknown number of people were jailed for providing aid.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement earlier this week that Muslims in the camps on the Rakhine state coast were at risk not only from the storm but also from violence at the hands of ethnic Rakhine communities and local security forces.
Rights groups have accused security forces of complicity in last year's violence between Buddhist Rakhines and Rohingya Muslims, which left at least 192 dead.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.