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Myanmar junta says 145 died in cyclone, NGOs fear higher toll


(Reuters) – Myanmar’s military-controlled media said on Friday 145 people were killed when Cyclone Mocha hit the country this week, in stark contrast to reports from rights groups and residents who fear hundreds may have died.

The impoverished western state of Rakhine bore the brunt of the storm that on Sunday tore down houses, communication towers and bridges with winds of up to 210 kph (130 mph), and triggered a storm surge that inundated the state capital Sittwe.

The junta said in a statement that as of May 18 a total of 145 people had been found dead, including 91 in camps for internally displaced people. Earlier this week it had said three people were killed by the storm.

Reuters could not independently verify the number of casualties.

Some residents contacted by Reuters said earlier this week that more than 400 people had been killed and many more were missing, adding that the survivors were struggling with a lack of food and medical supplies.

Rakhine has a large population of Rohingya Muslims – around 600,000, a persecuted minority that successive governments in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar have refused to recognise.

“Relief groups of respective states…are working on rescues and rehabilitation work along with charity civil society groups,” the junta said in the statement shared on its Telegram channels and on Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV).

However, the United Nations and other non-governmental organisations said relief efforts were stalled as they awaited permission from the junta to deploy personnel and much-needed food, water and medical supplies to the affected regions.

Storm-damaged bridges and roads blocks uprooted trees were also holding up aid, the international agencies said.

Some 400,000 people were evacuated in Myanmar and Bangladesh ahead of the cyclone making landfall, as authorities scrambled to avert heavy casualties from one of the strongest storms to hit the region in recent years.

(Reporting by Reuters Staff; writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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