Thousands of people have hunkered down in monasteries and schools, seeking shelter from a powerful storm that slammed into the coast of Myanmar, tearing the roofs off buildings and killing at least three people. The centre of Cyclone Mocha made landfall Sunday afternoon in Myanmar’s Rakhine state near Sittwe township wind speeds up to 209 kilometers (130 miles) per hour, Myanmar’s Meteorological Department said.
More than 4,000 of Sittwe’s 300,000 residents have been evacuated to other cities since Friday and more than 20,000 people are sheltering in sturdy buildings such as monasteries, pagodas (tiered towers) and schools located on the city’s highlands, said Tin Nyein Oo, who is helping people in shelters in Sittwe.
Many local people live in areas more than three metres above sea level, where residents believe the storm surge cannot reach, he added.
“The storm has not yet entered, so we don’t have much difficulty. However, there are too many people in the shelters and not enough toilets,” he added.
Lin Lin, the chairman of a local charitable foundation, said earlier there was not enough food in the shelters in Sittwe after more people arrived than expected.
A rescue team from the country’s eastern Shan state announced on its Facebook social media page that they had recovered the bodies of a couple who were buried when a landslide caused by heavy rain hit their house in Tachileik township. Local media reported that a man was crushed to death when a banyan tree fell on him in Pyin Oo Lwin township in the central Mandalay Region. In Sittwe, a cell phone tower collapsed under high wind and other buildings were damaged, local media reported.
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Titon Mitra, the UN Development Program representative in Myanmar, tweeted: “Mocha has made landfall. 2m people at risk. Damage and losses are expected to be extensive. We are ready to respond and will need unhindered access to all affected communities.”
In May 2008, Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar with a storm surge that devastated populated areas around the Irrawaddy River Delta. At least 138,000 people died and tens of thousands of homes and other buildings were washed away.
Authorities in the Bangladeshi city of Cox’s Bazar, which lay in the storm’s predicted path, said earlier that they had evacuated some 1.27 million people, but by early afternoon it appeared that the storm would mostly miss the country as it veered east, said Azizur Rahman, director of the Bangladesh Meteorological Department in Dhaka.
“The level of risk has reduced to a great extent in our Bangladesh,” he told reporters.
Strong winds accompanied by rains continued in the Saint Martin’s Island in the Bay of Bengal in the afternoon, but feared tidal surges did not take place because the cyclone started crossing Bangladesh coast at low tide, Dhaka-based Jamuna TV station reported.
UN agencies and aid workers in Bangladesh had prepositioned tons of dry food and dozens of ambulances with mobile medical teams in sprawling refugee camps that house more than 1 million Rohingya who fled persecution in Myanmar.
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had ordered officials to prepare for evacuations and rescues.
Roxy Mathew Koll, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune city, said cyclones in the Bay of Bengal are becoming more intense more quickly, in part because of climate change.
Climate scientists say cyclones can now retain their energy for many days. Cyclone Amphan in eastern India in 2020 continued to travel over land as a strong cyclone and caused extensive devastation.
“As long as oceans are warm and winds are favorable, cyclones will retain their intensity for a longer period,” Ms Koll said.
Cyclones are among the most devastating natural disasters in the world, especially if they affect densely populated coastal regions in South Asia.