Hundreds of thousands of people in Bangladesh and Myanmar were ordered to evacuate Wednesday as a cyclone bore down on coastal areas home to flood-prone refugee camps for victims of sectarian unrest.
The United Nations has warned that more than eight million people could be at risk from Cyclone Mahasen, expected to make landfall on Thursday or Friday somewhere near the border between the two countries.
Bangladesh people living in low-lying areas to move to cyclone shelters, while Myanmar announced plans to relocate roughly 1,66,000 people on its northwest coast to safety.
But in Myanmar’s state of Rakhine, many Muslim Rohingya made homeless by communal bloodshed last year said they were too scared to move, reflecting their deep mistrust of the authorities and of local Buddhists. “We could die here. We have no place to go,” said Yu Sut Taw, a Muslim man living in a camp on the outskirts of the state capital Sittwe, one of several in Rakhine which are home to a total of about 1,40,000 displaced persons.
Illustrating the dangers facing some of those who have tried to flee, 58 Rohingya were missing after their boat capsized on Monday as they tried to escape to higher ground.
The cyclone appeared to have lost some of its strength as it churned northwards through the Bay of Bengal, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a statement late Tuesday.
But it may still bring “life-threatening conditions” for 8.2 million people in northeast India, Bangladesh and Myanmar, it warned.