Cyclone Bijli spares Myanmar, Bangladesh

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) -- Myanmar lifted an alert Saturday after Cyclone Bijli veered away from the western coast of the country, which was battered almost a year ago by deadly Cyclone Nargis.

Remnants of Bijli brought heavy rain to parts of Myanmar's western coast after making landfall briefly in Bangladesh without causing any serious damage.

"We have called off the cyclone warning. It's a great relief," Tun Lwin, director-general of Myanmar's Meteorological Department, told The Associated Press. Earlier warnings of tidal surges from the storm were also lifted.

The warnings came two weeks before the anniversary of Cyclone Nargis, which slammed into Myanmar's coast on May 2 and cut a swath of destruction through the main rice-growing area on the southwestern tip of the country, leaving nearly 140,000 people dead or missing.

Myanmar's government issued warnings Friday for its western coastal region and told boats to seek shelter. But by Saturday state media reported that the cyclone had been downgraded and would not directly hit the coast.

The outer edge of the cyclone lashed southern Bangladesh early Saturday, prompting its government to evacuate tens of thousands of residents from the country's low-lying coast. The storm weakened shortly after making landfall.

No major damage was reported, but local television channel ETV and Desh TV said a 9-year-old boy died in Cox's Bazar district in a stampede as residents rushed toward a cyclone shelter. Cox's Bazar is 185 miles (295 kilometers) south of the capital, Dhaka.

Ayesha Khatun of the Bangladesh Meteorological Department said fishing boats would be allowed to return to sea soon. The country's main sea port in Chittagong would also reopen soon, said Farhad Uddin Ahmed, a senior port official.

Cyclones and tropical storms are common in the region. In 2007, Cyclone Sidr killed at least 3,500 people in Bangladesh.


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