Cyclone Mocha: Deadly storm hits Myanmar and Bangladesh coasts
After intensifying to the equivalent of a category five storm, a powerful cyclone hit the coasts of Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Cyclone Mocha did not make landfall at the sprawling refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar as earlier feared, but still tore apart hundreds of makeshift shelters.
Six people have been confirmed dead in Myanmar.
Residents told BBC that up to 90 percent of Sittwe, the capital of western Rakhine State’s state, has been destroyed.
The Burmese army has declared that the entire Rakhine region is a natural disaster zone.
By late Sunday evening, the storm was mostly over. Kamrul Hasan, Bangladesh’s disaster official, said that the cyclone had caused “no significant damage” but still landslides are flooding the country. So far, no casualties have occurred in Bangladesh.
Myanmar seems to have suffered a greater impact. The storm has smashed through houses in Rakhine State and cut power lines. The Myanmar meteorological department reported that the storm pounded across the country at around 209km/h (135 mph).
Camps for displaced Rohingya in the state have also been ripped apart.
Local media reported a 14-year-old boy among the dead. He was killed by a tree that fell in the state.
Electricity and wireless connections were disrupted across much of Sittwe. Footage online showed roofs being blown off houses, telecom towers brought down, and billboards flying off buildings amid teeming rain across the region.
Authorities have declared Rakhine state a natural disaster area, while the Myanmar Red Cross Society said it was “preparing for a major emergency response”.
Authorities in Bangladesh had evacuated 750,000 people ahead of the storm.
The streets of Cox’s Bazar emptied as the cyclone intensified – the skies darkened, the winds picked up pace and the rains pounded down.
Hundreds of people were crammed into a school that had been turned into a temporary cyclone shelter.
Mothers with babies, young children, the elderly, and the frail packed into any available space in the classrooms, sleeping on desks and sitting under them.
As many arrived at the shelter in rickshaws and on foot, they brought their livestock – cattle, chickens, goats – as well as mats to sleep on.
They had come from fishing and coastal villages up to two hours away, making a difficult choice.
“I didn’t want to leave my house,” said Sumi Akter, who lives on a riverbank.
Sumi and others we met here say they have lived through other cyclones in recent years and are resigned to the regular pattern of leaving their homes to the mercy of nature.
Storm surges of up to four meters could swamp villages in low-lying areas. Sumi and others here are fearful their homes may be submerged.
“I wish the homes we lived in were built more strongly,” she said.
Jannat, aged 17, whom we had met the day before in the same shelter, said she too was terrified of what might happen to her home on the riverbank.
Last year, another cyclone, Sitrang, destroyed her house, forcing her to spend what little money she had on repairing it.
“How can I live if this keeps happening? I can’t afford to rebuild it – we are very poor,” she said.
Nature was also punishing the poor in the world’s largest refugee camp nearby.
Bangladesh’s government does not allow Rohingya refugees to leave the camps, nor to build permanent structures.
As the cyclone hit, they hunkered down in flimsy bamboo shelters with tarpaulin roofs. Some were moved to community shelters within the camps, which offered little more protection.
Authorities told the BBC that more than 1,300 shelters were damaged by the wind, as were 16 mosques and learning centers. Trees had fallen in the camps, while two landslides also caused some damage.
The tarpaulin that covered Mohammed Ayub’s shelter was torn off by the winds. Now he and his family of eight are living in the open, in wet and miserable weather.
Having spent the days before terrified of what Cyclone Mocha could bring, Mohammed was relieved the camps didn’t take a direct hit from the storm.
Mizanur Rahman, from the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner, said that as far as he was aware, there were no casualties in the camps as a result of the cyclone.
Forecasters warned Cyclone Mocha could be the most powerful storm seen in Bangladesh in nearly two decades.
The Bangladeshi meteorological department officials said the maximum sustained wind speed within 75km (45 miles) of the center of the cyclone was about 195km/h (120mph), with gusts and squalls of 215km/h.
In preparation for the storm’s arrival, nearby airports had been shut, fishermen were ordered to suspend their work and 1,500 shelters were set up as people from vulnerable areas were moved to safer spots.
In 2008, Cyclone Nargis tore through the southern coastal regions of Myanmar, killing almost 140,000 people and severely affecting millions. Most of those who died were killed by a 3.5-meter wall of water that hit the low-lying Irrawaddy Delta.