Strong cyclone batters Burma

A tropical cyclone packing winds up to 240kph battered Burma on Saturday, ripping roofs off dozens of buildings near the country’s biggest city, knocking out electricity and forcing tourists to flee coastal flooding, officials said.

There were scattered reports of injuries and deaths, but the government refused to provide any details.

Cyclone Mala passed through Gwa, a resort 190km north-west of Yangon, an official from the meteorological department said, producing massive waves and flooding, knocking down trees and forcing dozens of youngsters on a yachting trip to take refuge on higher ground.

He spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the political climate in the dictatorship, officially known as Myanmar.

The worst damage appeared to be just outside the country’s largest city, Yangon, where strong winds ahead of the cyclone damaged more than 150 buildings, the official said.

A soft-drink and flour factory in the Hlaing Thar Yar industrial zone collapsed and dozens of buildings lost their roofs, the official said. Police and soldiers stood guard as municipal workers cleaned up the twisted metal, downed utility polls and shattered glass in the area.

“This was the worst damage I have ever seen in my life,” said a resident from the industrial zone. “Even containers fell and cars were blown into the air by what looked like a tornado.”

The storm on Friday damaged several houses on Haingyi island and forced South Korea’s Daewoo International Corporation to abandon oil platforms in northern Rakhine state, a Daewoo employee said.

“Several houses were destroyed and many houses lost their roofs in the storm, which hit Haingyi island with a wind speed of more than 120kph,” said a senior meteorological department officer, who also requested anonymity as is customary among Myanmar officials.

Haingyi island is 200km south-west of Yangon, at the tip of the southern delta region.

Storm warnings were also issued for coastal areas in southern Bangladesh, though there was “almost no chance of it coming to Bangladesh’s coast”, Akram Hossain, director of the Bangladesh Meteorological Department, told reporters.

Still, hundreds of fishermen returned to shore to escape the rough seas in the Bay of Bengal and tens of thousands of Red Crescent Society volunteers were put on standby should people need help evacuating to higher ground.

In 2004, the worst cyclone to hit the area in 30 years battered Rakhine state, leaving 140 people dead or missing and thousands homeless.

Cyclones—known as typhoons in much of East Asia and hurricanes in the Western hemisphere—are large-scale rotating storms that generate high winds and form at sea before moving inland.—Sapa-AP

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