- Posted by Ragini Vadyanathan
- In Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
A powerful cyclone battered the coasts of Bangladesh and Myanmar after it strengthened into the equivalent of a Category 5 storm.
Cyclone Mocha didn’t make landfall on the sprawling refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar as previously feared, but it still ripped through hundreds of temporary shelters.
At least six people have been reported killed in Myanmar.
Residents told the BBC that about 90 percent of Sittwe, the capital of western Rakhine State, was destroyed.
By late Sunday, the storm had largely passed. Bangladesh’s disaster management official, Kamrul Hassan, said the cyclone “didn’t cause much damage,” but landslides and floods were still hitting the country. No casualties have been reported in Bangladesh so far.
Myanmar appears to have had a more direct impact, as the storm swept away homes and cut power lines in Rakhine state. The Myanmar Meteorological Department said it was passing through the country at about 209 kilometers per hour (130 mph).
The camps for the displaced Rohingya in the state have also been destroyed.
Local media reported that a 14-year-old boy was among the dead – killed by a falling tree in the state.
Electricity and radio communications were disrupted in most parts of Sittwe. Footage online showed rooftops flying off, telecom towers and billboards flying from buildings as heavy rain fell across the region.
Authorities declared Rakhine State a natural disaster zone, while the Myanmar Red Cross Society said it was “preparing for a major emergency”.
The authorities in Bangladesh evacuated 750,000 people before the storm.
The streets of Cox’s Bazar emptied as the cyclone intensified – the skies darkened, the winds intensified and the rains fell.
Hundreds of people crowd a school that has been turned into a temporary tornado shelter.
Mothers with babies, young children, the elderly and the frail crowded into any available space in the classrooms, sleeping on desks and sitting under them.
When many arrived at the refuge in carts and on foot, they brought their livestock—cattle, chickens, and goats—as well as mats to sleep on.
They hailed from coastal and fishing villages two hours away, which made for a difficult choice.
“I didn’t want to leave my house,” said Sumi Akter, who lives by the river.
Sumi and others interviewed here say they have experienced other typhoons in recent years and have succumbed to the usual pattern of leaving their homes to the mercy of nature.
Gusty gusts of up to four meters can swamp villages in low-lying areas. Sumi and others here fear their homes have been flooded.
“I wish the homes we lived in were more solidly built,” she said.
Jannat, 17, whom we had met the day before at the same shelter, said she, too, was afraid of what might happen to her riverside home.
Last year, another typhoon, Citrang, destroyed her home, forcing her to spend what little money she had on fixing it up.
“How can I live if this keeps happening? I can’t rebuild it – we are too poor,” she said.
Nature was also punishing the poor in the world’s largest refugee camp nearby.
The Bangladesh government does not allow the Rohingya refugees to leave the camps, nor to build permanent facilities.
When the hurricane hit, they holed up in flimsy bamboo shelters with tarpaulin roofs. Some were taken to community shelters within the camps, which offered little protection.
Authorities told the BBC that the winds damaged more than 1,300 shelters, as well as 16 mosques and educational centres. Trees were downed in the camps, and two landslides also caused some damage.
The wind tore the tarpaulin that covered Muhammad Ayoub’s shelter. Now he and his family of eight live out in the open, in damp, miserable weather.
Having spent days before fearing what Typhoon Mocha could bring, Mohammed was relieved that the camps did not take a direct hit from the storm.
Mizan Rahman, of the UNHCR, said that as far as he was aware, there were no casualties in the camps as a result of the cyclone.
Meteorologists have warned that Cyclone Mocha could be the strongest storm to hit Bangladesh in nearly two decades.
The Bangladesh Meteorological Bureau said maximum winds within 75 kilometers (45 miles) of the cyclone’s center were around 195 kilometers per hour (120 mph), with gusts and gusts of 215 kph.
In preparation for the storm’s arrival, nearby airports were closed, fishermen were ordered to halt their work and 1,500 shelters were set up as people were moved from vulnerable areas to safer locations.
In 2008, Cyclone Nargis devastated the southern coastal regions of Myanmar, killing nearly 140,000 people and severely affecting millions. Most of those who died were killed by a 3.5-meter-high wall of water that struck the low-lying Irrawaddy Delta.
Additional reporting by Kelly Ng in Singapore
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