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Myanmar port city cut off after Cyclone Mocha

AFP . Kyauktaw
15 May 2023 13:21:13 | Update: 15 May 2023 14:55:53
Myanmar port city cut off after Cyclone Mocha
Local residents check the damages after Cyclone Mocha crashed ashore, in Kyauktaw in Myanmar’s Rakhine state on May 14, 2023 — AFP Photo

Tens of thousands of people in a major Myanmar port city were cut off from contact on Monday after a deadly cyclone tore through the west of the country and neighbouring Bangladesh.

Cyclone Mocha made landfall between Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh and Myanmar's Sittwe packing winds of up to 195 kilometres (120 miles) per hour, the biggest storm to hit the Bay of Bengal in over a decade.

By late Sunday, the storm had largely passed, sparing the refugee camps housing almost a million Rohingya in Bangladesh, where officials said there had been no deaths.

Three people were killed in Myanmar, the junta said on Monday, two in Rakhine state and one in southern Ayeyarwady region.

"Some residents were injured" in the storm, the statement said, without giving details, adding that 864 houses and 14 hospitals or clinics had been damaged across the country. 

Communications were still down on Monday with Rakhine's capital Sittwe, home to around 150,000 people and which bore the brunt of the storm according to cyclone trackers.

The road to Sittwe was littered with trees, pylons and power cables, AFP correspondents said, with vehicles full of rescuers and locals trying to reach the city and their relatives forming queues.

"We drove all the way through the cyclone yesterday and cut trees and pushed away pylons... but then the big trees blocked the road," an ambulance driver trying to reach Sittwe told AFP.

He and others were using a chainsaw to cut through branches of trees blocking the road.  

"I want to go home as fast as I can because we don't know the situation in Sittwe," a man from the town told AFP, requesting anonymity. 

"There is no phone line, there is no internet... I'm worried for my home and belongings."

Mocha made landfall on Sunday, bringing a storm surge and high winds that toppled a communications tower in Sittwe, according to images published on social media. 

"Everything has been damaged in Sittwe," one resident who was in the city told AFP.

"I was in a Buddhist monastery when the storm came. The prayer hall and monk dining hall have collapsed. We had to move from this building and that building. Now roads are blocked as trees and pylons are fallen."

Junta-affiliated media reported that the storm had put hundreds of base stations, which connect mobile phones to networks, out of action in Rakhine state.

Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing had "instructed officials to make preparations for Sittwe Airport transport relief," state media reported, without giving details on when relief was expected to arrive. 

'Extensive damage'

The United Nations said communications problems meant it had not yet been able to assess the damage in Rakhine state, which has been ravaged by ethnic conflict for years. 

"Early reports suggest the damage is extensive," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said late on Sunday.

On Bangladesh's Shah Porir Dwip island, residents began repairing damaged homes, searching through debris and retrieving scattered possessions.

Bangladesh officials said they had evacuated 750,000 people.

Secretary of the disaster management ministry, Kamrul Hasan, told AFP on Monday that no one had died in the cyclone.

In the Rohingya camps, where about a million people live in 190,000 bamboo and tarpaulin shelters, the damage was also minimal, officials said. 

"About 300 shelters were destroyed by the cyclone," deputy refugee commissioner Shamsud Douza told AFP.

The chances of landslides in the camps were also low "due to lack of rain".

"The sky has become clear."

In recent years, better forecasting and more effective evacuation planning have dramatically reduced the death toll from such storms.

Scientists have warned that storms are becoming more powerful as the world gets warmer because of climate change.

Cyclones -- the equivalent of hurricanes in the North Atlantic or typhoons in the Northwest Pacific -- are a regular and deadly menace on the coast of the northern Indian Ocean where tens of millions of people live.

Cyclone Nargis devastated Myanmar's Irrawaddy Delta in 2008, killing at least 138,000 people.

The then-junta faced international criticism for its response to the disaster. It was accused of blocking emergency aid and initially refusing to grant access to humanitarian workers and supplies.