The strongest storm in nearly two decades is barreling toward the coasts of eastern Bangladesh and Myanmar, forecasters warned Saturday.
After brewing in the Bay of Bengal for several days, Cyclone Mocha is packing winds of up to 175 kilometers per hour (109 miles) as it approaches the two Asian countries.
Mocha is likely to intensify further and make landfall on Sunday between Cox’s Bazar, a southeastern border district of Bangladesh, and Sittwe on Myanmar’s western Rakhine coast, Bangladesh’s Meteorological Department said in a bulletin.
Rohingya refugees face more misery
Cox’s Bazar is where more than a million Rohingya refugees live in small settlements – many fleeing a crackdown led by Myanmar’s military in 2017.
Bangladeshi authorities have banned the Rohingya from building permanent concrete homes, fearing that this will encourage them to settle permanently rather than return to Myanmar.
“All the Rohingya in the camps are at risk,” Bangladesh’s refugee commissioner’s representative Shamsud Douza told Agence France-Presse.
Bangladeshi authorities have begun evacuating refugees from “dangerous areas” to community centers, while hundreds have fled to nearby islands.
“We are focusing on saving lives,” said Mohammad Shamsud Douza, a Bangladeshi government official responsible for refugees. “People who are at risk of landslides will be evacuated.”
According to the United Nations, more than six million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in the path of the cyclone in Myanmar alone.
The World Food Program says it is preparing food and relief supplies to help more than 400,000 people in Rakhine state and neighboring areas for a month.
Some people in Sittwe, Rakhine’s capital, have left their homes to seek shelter on higher ground or move further afield, a resident said.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military seized power two years ago. A resistance movement is fighting the junta on several fronts after a bloody crackdown on protests.
Strongest storm in decades
Meteorologists said Mocha was the strongest storm since Cyclone Sidr, which hit Bangladesh’s southern coast in November 2007, killing more than 3,000 people and causing billions of dollars in damage.
Forecasters expect the storm to bring a deluge of rain, which could cause landslides.
The typhoon is also predicted to unleash a storm surge up to four meters (13 feet) high, which could flood low-lying coastal villages and rivers.
About 8,000 people on the southern island of Saint Martin in Bangladesh are also afraid, with a small coral outcrop – one of the country’s main resort districts – right in the path of the storm.
Officials said nearly 1,000 Saint Martin islanders had left, diverting 250 Teknaf boats to try to prevent them from drifting away.
Operations were suspended at the country’s largest port, Chittagong, with boat transport and fishing activities also halted.
mm/rc (AFP, Reuters)