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Cyclone Mahasen approaches Bangaldesh

Close to a million people have been evacuated as Cyclone Mahasen approaches Bangladesh.

 A cyclone threatening to lash low-lying coastal areas of Bangladesh and Myanmar appears to have weakened, but still poses a risk to more than eight million people, according to the UN. Picture: AFP

CHITTAGONG - Bangladesh is evacuating one million people with Cyclone Mahasen expected to hit its low-lying delta coast on Thursday evening, said the United Nations, which estimated 4.1 million people were at risk due to gale-force winds, heavy rain and flooding.

Bangladesh has raised its storm warning to seven, on a scale with a maximum of 10, as Mahasen approaches one of the poorest countries in Asia with winds of around 100 km/h.

The storm has already killed at least seven people and displaced 3,881 in Sri Lanka as it tracked across the Bay of Bengal towards Bangladesh.

A boat carrying Rohingya Muslims in neighbouring Myanmar capsized at around midnight on Monday after hitting rocks off Pauktaw in Rakhine State while evacuating ahead of the storm.

Official media said 42 people were rescued but 58 were missing.

Mahasen weakened slightly overnight, but remained a category 1 cyclone as it continued its northeast path towards Bangladesh.

"The government has ordered the evacuation of about one million people from 15 coastal districts," said the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

"As per the latest storm trajectory, 4.1 million people have been identified as living in at risk areas in the districts of Chittagong and Cox's Bazar," it said in its latest update.

A storm surge of up to 2.1 metres is expected to hit Bangladesh's delta, with cyclone-whipped waves already washing the coast.

The port in Chittagong, which has a population of about three million, and the airport in Cox's Bazar were closed on Wednesday.

"Mahasen will make landfall on Thursday evening, local time, and bringing heavy rain to much of the region and gusty winds to southern Bangladesh and western Myanmar," said meteorologists at Accuweather.com storm forecasters.

Mudslides will also be a concern as the heavy rain spreads farther north and east on Thursday night and Friday.

"PRAY FOR THE BEST"

Bangladesh has more than 1,400 cyclone-proof buildings on standby, but across its eastern border in Myanmar tens of thousands of people on the coast are sheltering in makeshift camps and huts made of timber and palm fronds.

The Myanmar government had planned to move 38,000 internally displaced people, most of them Rohingya Muslims, by Tuesday but many have refused to relocate from camps in Rakhine State in the west of the country, afraid of the authorities' intentions.

At a camp near the sea on the outskirts of Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, several people told Reuters on Wednesday they would rather perish in the storm than evacuate.

"If the cyclone hits here, I will pray. Everyone here wants to die in the storm because we lost everything last year." said Hla Maung.

Myanmar is a mainly Buddhist country but about 5% of its 60 million people are Muslims.They face a growing anti-Muslim campaign led by radical Buddhist monks.

A Reuters Special Report found apartheid-like policies were segregating Muslims from Buddhists in Rakhine State.

Meteorologists said Mahasen should weaken quickly once it makes landfall.

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