SITTWE, Myanmar — An overcrowded boat capsized while trying to escape a cyclone bearing down on Myanmar, tossing dozens of people into the sea. Eight bodies were found and more than 50 people were missing and feared dead, the United Nations said Tuesday.
More than 100 Rohingya Muslims were aboard the boat when it set sail late Monday night, said James Munn, an official with the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The UN said tens of thousands of Rohingya were endangered by the storm. About 140,000 people — mostly Rohingya — are living in flimsy tents and makeshift shelters in Rakhine state. They sought refuge in the camps after two outbreaks of Buddhist-Muslim violence last year.
Ashok Nigam, the United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar, said nearly 70,000 of the displaced should be moved to higher ground. They are in low-lying areas along the coast that are highly susceptible to tidal surges and flooding. It was raining at the camps on Tuesday.
Cyclone Mahasen is expected to make landfall late Thursday or early Friday. The storm was heading toward Chittagong, Bangladesh, but could shift east and deliver a more direct hit on Rakhine state, according to Myanmar’s Meteorology Department. Heavy rains and strong winds are expected to batter Rakhine.