Sri Lanka evacuates coastline ahead of cyclone

Sri Lankan Tamil farmers ride on a tractor in the former war zone district of Mullaittivu on October 21 (AFP/File, Ishara S.Kodikara)Sri Lanka has ordered the evacuation of thousands of residents ahead a cyclone expected to hit the island’s north-eastern coast early Tuesday, the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) said.

People living within 500 metres (550 yards) from the coast were asked to move inland before the cyclone was due to make landfall at 2:00am Tuesday (2030 GMT), DMC director Sarath Lal Kumara said.

"The evacuation applies to a coastline of about 150 kilometres (93 miles) in the island’s north-east," he told AFP. "The area is thinly populated. We are issuing the evacuation notice as precaution to ensure there are no casualties."

The local meteorological department said a deep depression in the Bay of Bengal had developed into a "marginal cyclone" and was heading towards the island with wind speeds of up to 80 kilometres (50 miles) an hour.

The "marginal cyclone" was due to strike Sri Lanka’s Mullaittivu district.

"Low-lying coastal areas may be slightly inundated by sea waves," the meteorological department said. "Shallow and deep sea areas off the coast will experience very rough conditions, strong winds and intermittent rain."

The region is Sri Lanka’s most sparsely populated area and was the scene of the final battle between government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels in May 2009. The area had been off limits for civilians till recently.

Officials said they used tsunami early warning towers in the area to alert people to move away from the coastline.

Heavy winds and rain killed 19 people in the island’s south in November last year.

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