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Boats carrying fleeing Rohingya minority capsize

Published: Friday, Sept. 4 2015 4:53 a.m. MDT

Internally displaced Rohingya girl walks with a sibling in rain at a makeshift camp for Rohingya people in Sittwe, northwestern Rakhine State, Myanmar, ahead of the arrival of Cyclone Mahasen expected later this week, Tuesday.   (Associated Press) Internally displaced Rohingya girl walks with a sibling in rain at a makeshift camp for Rohingya people in Sittwe, northwestern Rakhine State, Myanmar, ahead of the arrival of Cyclone Mahasen expected later this week, Tuesday. (Associated Press)

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 were aboard the boat when it set sail late Monday night, said James Munn, an official with the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The U.N. 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-Rohingya 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.

Internally displaced Rohingya boys shiver in rain in a makeshift camp for Rohingya people in Sittwe, northwestern Rakhine State, Myanmar, ahead of the arrival of Cyclone Mahasen expected later this week, Tuesday, May 14, 2013. The U.N. said they cyclone could swamp makeshift housing camps sheltering tens of thousands of Rohingya.  Myanmar state television reported Monday that 5,158 people were relocated from low-lying camps in Rakhine state to safer shelters. But far more people are considered vulnerable. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe) (Associated Press) Internally displaced Rohingya boys shiver in rain in a makeshift camp for Rohingya people in Sittwe, northwestern Rakhine State, Myanmar, ahead of the arrival of Cyclone Mahasen expected later this week, Tuesday, May 14, 2013. The U.N. said they cyclone could swamp makeshift housing camps sheltering tens of thousands of Rohingya. Myanmar state television reported Monday that 5,158 people were relocated from low-lying camps in Rakhine state to safer shelters. But far more people are considered vulnerable. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe) (Associated Press)

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.

Myanmar state television reported Monday that 5,158 people had been relocated from low-lying camps in the Rakhine state capital Sittwe to safer shelters, and an unspecified number from other areas. The U.N. said the government's plan had been to evacuate 38,000 internally displaced people on Monday and Tuesday.

International rights and aid agencies urged that the evacuations be stepped up.

"If the government fails to evacuate those at risk, any disaster that results will not be natural, but man-made," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Many people in Buddhist-majority Myanmar see Rohingya Muslims as illegal migrants from Bangladesh, even though many have lived in Myanmar for generations, and they are denied citizenship as a result.

An internally displaced Rohingya boy wraps himself with a sarong as he walks in rain at a makeshift camp for Rohingya people in Sittwe, northwestern Rakhine State, Myanmar, ahead of the arrival of Cyclone Mahasen, Tuesday, May 14, 2013. The U.N. said the cyclone, expected later this week, could swamp makeshift housing camps sheltering tens of thousands of Rohingya.  Myanmar state television reported Monday that 5,158 people were relocated from low-lying camps in Rakhine state to safer shelters. But far more people are considered vulnerable. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe) (Associated Press) An internally displaced Rohingya boy wraps himself with a sarong as he walks in rain at a makeshift camp for Rohingya people in Sittwe, northwestern Rakhine State, Myanmar, ahead of the arrival of Cyclone Mahasen, Tuesday, May 14, 2013. The U.N. said the cyclone, expected later this week, could swamp makeshift housing camps sheltering tens of thousands of Rohingya. Myanmar state television reported Monday that 5,158 people were relocated from low-lying camps in Rakhine state to safer shelters. But far more people are considered vulnerable. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe) (Associated Press)

Myanmar's southern delta was devastated in 2008 by Cyclone Nargis, which swept away entire farming villages and killed more than 130,000 people.

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