Power out as cyclone hits Burma

Yangon - Severe tropical cyclone Nargis lashed Burma/Myanmar's main city on Saturday, downing power lines and tearing roofs off houses as residents took shelter in their homes and waited for the storm to pass.

Electricity supplies in Yangon have been cut since late Friday night as the storm bore down from the Bay of Bengal, packing winds of 190-240 kilometres per hour, residents said.

Trees were uprooted across the city and streets were deserted with no buses or taxis seen and all shops closed. Many buildings were damaged with their roofs blown off and billboards knocked down.

"I have never seen such a storm in my life," one resident said.

Nargis made landfall around the mouth of the Ayeyawaddy (Irrawaddy) river, about 220 kilometres southwest of Yangon, before hitting the country's economic hub.

Saturday evening it was forecast to move northeast towards Thailand, which warned that flash floods could hit the north, centre and east of the country and said heavy rains were expected until Monday.

Burma/Myanmar's state-run radio was off the air in Yangon and Internet connections were down, with even government sites unavailable. A meteorologist said he was unable to give updated information as he had lost contact with other offices.

The post and telecommunications office however sent a message to mobile phone users warning that the rear eye wall of the cyclone was approaching after winds dropped mid-afternoon.

Witnesses said police trucks with loudspeakers were also relaying the warning and telling residents to stay indoors.

Food and water prices doubled at the few roadside stores which dared to open as supermarkets and other shops remained shut.

A rare military helicopter was spotted surveying the scene of destruction across the city.

There were no immediate reports of casualties but an official in the capital Naypyidaw told AFP some fishing boats were missing but he had no further information.

A Red Cross official said they had lost contact with Ayeyawaddy district since Friday.

"This morning we haven't received any list of damage or casualties as we lost contact with Ayeyawaddy Division since yesterday evening," an official with the International Federation of the Red Cross said.

"There could be a lot of damage from this sort of situation, especially in satellite towns. There might also be some casualties," he said.

An information ministry official said radio and television were airing storm warnings. But residents of Yangon said they were unable to receive the radio and the power outage meant they could not check the television.

Tens of thousands of people were made homeless in the Ayeyawaddy River delta last August after unusually heavy rains triggered floods in the low-lying region.

It was not immediately known whether damage from the storm would affect a referendum next Saturday on a new constitution which the ruling junta says will pave the way for democratic elections in 2010.

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