Authorities began moving tens of thousands of people, including some displaced by communal violence, back to their homes and temporary camps Friday after a tropical storm from which they had sought shelter left western Myanmar largely unscathed.
Cyclone Mahasen fizzled out and veered west of its expected point of landfall, sparing more than 8 million people along the coast of the Bay of Bengal in Myanmar and Bangladesh that the U.N. had warned could have faced “life-threatening conditions.”
At least 46 people were killed either by the storm or while trying to escape it, including 31 Muslim Rohingyas whose boat capsized after setting sail from Myanmar’s Rakhine state, according to officials. Of the 31 who drowned, 25 were children and six were women.
Fifteen people were confirmed killed in Bangladesh by Mahasen which produced winds up to 100 kilometers (62 miles) per hour before being downgraded to a tropical depression.
In Myanmar, which was spared the brunt of the storm’s force, efforts were under way Friday to return some of the 70,000 people evacuated, including
Rohingyas displaced by communal violence last year, to their homes in 13 townships and to area refugee camps.
Win Myaing, a Rakhine state information official, told reporters that the government was assisting displaced evacuees in returning to camps, while others were returning to their homes on their own.
“We brought back displaced persons from five refugee camps to their places as a preliminary group,” he said of the evacuated Rohingyas.
“Some were sent back to their temporary tents at the camps and others were sent back to new huts that are more secure.”
Win Myaing said that there were no reports of deaths or serious damage from the storm and that the area was “no longer in danger.”
Distrust of government
Authorities had struggled over recent days to evacuate Rohingyas from camps thought to be in the path of the cyclone, 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, 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 and displaced 140,000.
Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.