A cyclone has hit the western coast of Myanmar from the Bay of Bengal, sparking fears of a repeat of the devastation caused when cyclone Nargis struck the country’s Irrawaddy delta in 2008.
Official state media said Cyclone Giri was gaining strength as crossed the Myanmar coast at Kyaukpyu in the west of the country on Friday.
Wind speeds of up to 160kph were reported and state media warned the storm could trigger a tidal surge of up to 3.7m in some towns on the Bay of Bengal coast.
Telephone contact with the area was reportedly interrupted overnight after the cyclone hit, but the Reuters news agency said a resident of Kyaukpyu contacted on Saturday morning said the area had suffered badly.
“Everything is gone. All the trees and lamp posts have fallen. Many buildings were damaged. Many people were left homeless,” Ko Ba Phyu was quoted as saying.
“We haven’t got any information about casualties. It’s too early to know the exact size of damage due to poor telecommunications.”
An official, who did not want to be named, was quoted as telling the AFP news agency that communication with Kyaukpyu was “very difficult”.
“Many trees were toppled and some buildings were also destroyed,” he said.
The authorities had earlier advised residents to leave low-lying areas along the coast.
The Mandalay area northeast of the coast where Giri made landfall has suffered torrential rain in the past few weeks and residents contacted by Reuters said there had been flash floods recently.
The storm was moving northeast through the country on Saturday, but was expected to weaken later in the day, a meteorological official said.
The Bangladesh meteorological department had warned on Friday that what it termed a cyclonic storm could hit the Bangladesh-Myanmar coast later in the day.
It said the storm, at that point centred 390km from Chittagong port, packed winds up to 115kph and that ships and deep-sea fishing vessels had been asked to move closer to shore.
Coastal and delta regions in Myanmar are often hit by strong storms. More than 130,000 people were killed or went missing when Cyclone Nargis struck in May 2008.
Nargis 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.