Bangladesh, Myanmar relieved as cyclone fizzles

Bangladesh: A once-fearsome cyclone that was threatening Bangladesh and Myanmar dissipated quickly, causing some deaths but largely relieving authorities who had told more than 1 million people to leave vulnerable coastal areas in preparation for a far worse storm.

Cyclone Mahasan lost power as it shed huge amounts of rain and then veered west of its predicted path, sparing major Bangladeshi population areas, including Chittagong and the seaside resort of Cox’s Bazar, said Mohammad Shah Alam, director of the Bangladesh Meteorological Department.

Coastal areas were spared major damage because it hit Thursday afternoon during low tide, causing no major tidal surge, he said.

“Thank God we have been spared this time,” local government administrator Ruhul Amin said.

Before the storm threat weakened, Bangladesh had evacuated 1 million people, and the United Nations warned that 8.2 million people could face life-threatening conditions.

Myanmar was spared almost entirely. Evacuation attempts there had met with frustration as some of the tens of thousands of displaced Rohingya people in western Rakhine state were wary about the government’s order and refused to leave.

“It’s all over, and we are very relieved that we didn’t have any unfortunate incident in Rakhine state due to the cyclone,” Win Myaing, Rakhine’s regional spokesman said.

In Cox’s Bazar, tens of thousands of people had fled shanty homes along the coast and packed into cyclone shelters, hotels, schools and government office buildings. But by Thursday afternoon, the sun was shining and Amin said he planned to close the shelters by the evening.

The storm’s slow movement toward Bangladesh gave the government plenty of warning to get people to safety, Amin said.

“But for the evacuation, the casualties would have been higher,” he said.

Ferry services in the delta nation resumed Thursday night after being suspended in advance of the cyclone. Scores of factories near the choppy Bay of Bengal had been closed, and the military said it kept 22 navy ships and 19 Air Force helicopters at the ready.

A 1991 cyclone that slammed into Bangladesh from the Bay of Bengal killed an estimated 139,000 people and left millions homeless. In 2008, Myanmar’s southern delta was devastated by Cyclone Nargis, which swept away entire farming villages and killed more than 130,000 people. Both those cyclones were much more powerful than Mahasen, which hit land with maximum wind speeds of about 100 kph (62 mph) and quickly weakened, said Alam, the meteorological official.