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Strong cyclone strikes western Myanmar

by Staff Writers
Yangon (AFP) Oct 22, 2010
A severe cyclone pounded western Myanmar on Friday, threatening to unleash flooding and landslides, authorities in the military-ruled country said.

A weather warning broadcast on state television described Cyclone Giri as a "very strong" storm and urged people living in affected coastal areas in Rakhine state to move to safety.

The storm was packing winds of about 177 kilometres (110 miles) per hour at its centre, with gusts of up to 193 kph, said the alert, issued by Myanmar's department of meteorology.

Sea levels could rise by 3.7 metres (12 feet), it said.

A Myanmar official said there were no reports of casualties, but communication with the worst-hit region was difficult.

Trees were reportedly toppled and power was cut to some areas, according to the official, who did not want to be named.

Myanmar is frequently hit by tropical storms and in 2008 was battered by Cyclone Nargis, which left 138,000 people dead or missing, mostly in the southwest delta region.

A Red Cross official in Yangon said the authorities in Rakhine State had prepared disaster relief camps since Thursday in preparation for the storm, adding, "We are hoping the worst situation will be avoided."

A resident in Kyaukphyu town in Rakhine State said the cyclone was bringing rain and rising water levels.

"We're staying inside the house. So far we haven't heard of any casualties," she said.

The storm was expected to churn northeastwards towards the Chin, Magway and Mandalay areas, state television said, warning of a risk of landslides.

Neighbouring Bangladesh advised its fishing boats and trawlers to remain in shelter and warned of the risk of flooding in low-lying areas. India's meteorological department described Giri as a "very severe" cyclone.

The US Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii said Giri was expected to "rapidly weaken" as it moves across the rugged terrain of western Myanmar.

Cyclone Nargis in 2008 unleashed winds of 240 kilometres an hour and storm surges up to four metres high, sweeping away thousands of homes, flooding rice fields with salt water and ravaging schools and hospitals.

Myanmar's military government faced international criticism for its response to the disaster. It was accused of blocking emergency aid and initially refusing to grant access to humanitarian workers and supplies.

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