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Myanmar lowers cyclone warning

world Updated: Apr 18, 2009 11:32 IST

AFP
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Myanmar weather officials on Saturday said a cyclone that earlier hit neighbouring Bangladesh had weakened and was unlikely to endanger lives, but maintained a warning to avoid the west coast.

State media said the threat from Cyclone Bijli had been downgraded from mid- to low-level and could by-pass the country's west coast completely. "The force of the cyclone has lowered to a 'yellow' threat from an 'orange' one and it is forecast that the cyclone is not now moving towards Myanmar's coast," the New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported.

The military-run government's meteorological department said the weakening cyclone was now expected to pass over northwest Chin state within 12 hours from Saturday evening but said region's mountainous terrain would dull its effects.

However it predicted the cyclone would cause heavy rains across large parts of the country and urged fishermen to avoid going out to sea until it passed. "During the storm, the tidal surf will be three to five feet high (one to 1.5 metres) along northern Rakine coastal region," it said adding that the surface wind speed could reach 40 to 50 miles (65 to 80 kilometres) per hour.

The national Red Cross said volunteers were on standby in case of injuries.

In Bangladesh, thousands of people were evacuated from coastal areas before Bijli hit the country with winds of up to 90 kilometres (56 miles) an hour on Friday. Three people died, officials said Saturday, and houses were badly damaged in the storm.

Myanmar was hit by a severe cyclone a year ago that left an estimated 138,000 people dead or missing and affected some 2.4 million people, mostly in the southwest delta region.

But despite a huge international relief push, the secretive ruling junta stalled on issuing visas to foreign aid workers and blocked some humanitarian supplies from entering the country, drawing worldwide condemnation.