Hundreds of thousands face evacuation as Cyclone Mocha intensifies into ‘very severe’ storm
Authorities in Bangladesh and Myanmar are bracing to evacuate thousands of people as tropical cyclone Mocha strengthens over the Bay of Bengal to hit the coastal areas of the countries.
A World Meteorological Organization (WMO) spokesperson said on Friday that Mocha had intensified very quickly and warned of “big humanitarian impacts” when it makes landfall this weekend. WMO spokesperson Clare Nullis told a Geneva-based briefing that the cyclone was likely to inundate low-lying areas of north Myanmar as well as parts of Bangladesh and warned of possible landslides.
The storm, first to form in the Bay this year, is expected to roar in on Sunday with a wind speed of up to 160km/h, gusting to 175km/h between Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh and Kyaukpyu in Myanmar, India’s Meteorological Department (IMD) said.
Bangladesh is a delta nation of more than 160 million people and is prone to natural disasters such as floods and cyclones. An evacuation of nearly 500,000 people is expected to begin on Saturday with 576 cyclone shelters ready to provide refuge to those moved from their homes along a vast coast, said Bangladesh government administrator Muhammad Shaheen Imran.
Cox’s Bazar is home to hundreds of Rohingyas who fled from Myanmar to escape persecution in 2017, with several taking refuge in tarpaulin shelters on hilly slopes that often experience strong winds, rain and landslide.
International aid agencies are ramping up efforts for a partial evacuation of Cox’s Bazar refugee camp.
“Emergency preparations in the camps [and] on Bhasan Char are underway ahead of potential cyclone Mocha which could make landfall in Bangladesh,” said the UN’s refugee agency in the country.
“In preparation of cyclones, hundreds of Rohingya refugee volunteers have been trained on identifying risks, informing their communities, evacuating people when needed and responding after disaster strikes.”
Emergency preparations in the camps & on Bhasan Char are underway ahead of potential cyclone Mocha which could make landfall in Bangladesh.
The Government has hosted coordination meetings with humanitarian partners, including through the RRRC to respond jointly and efficiently. pic.twitter.com/EmoDDZjA8z
— UNHCR in Bangladesh (@UNHCR_BGD) May 11, 2023
“This is the first cyclone system in the north Indian Ocean this year,” shared Rajendra Kumar Jenamani, a senior IMD scientist. “The cyclone is severe and will likely affect millions of fishers and coastal communities in Bangladesh and Myanmar.”
The Met department said dry and continental winds were blowing over all of east India in the direction of cyclone Mocha. “We are expecting rains in northeastern states on May 13 and 14 and strong winds,” IMD director general M Mohapatra was quoted as saying by the Hindustan Times.
It also warned against the uprooting of small trees and the possibility of landslides in vulnerable areas of the country’s eastern and northeastern states, including West Bengal, Mizoram, Tripura and south Manipur.
India’s National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) has deployed eight teams and 200 rescuers in West Bengal to deal with any exigencies.
“We have deployed eight teams and 200 rescuers on the ground and 100 rescuers are on standby,” said Gurminder Singh, commandant of NDRF’s 2nd Battalion.
In neighbouring Myanmar, authorities warned of possible flash floods and landslides in coastal areas as residents stocked up on essential supplies, said Hla Tun, a director at the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology.
The Friday edition of the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar carried reports about rehearsal exercises for emergency management, response, recuse, cooperation, readiness and rehabilitation processes in various regions. According to reports, thousands of people living in townships along the western coast of Rakhine state, where the storm is expected to pass, are being evacuated by the respective departments and social rescue groups.
In Bangladesh, control rooms in cyclone-prone areas were ready for emergency support. Three ports were put on alert, Mr Imran said.
He said the government has already allocated dry food, rice and cash and organised thousands of volunteers for relief work under the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society.
Cyclone Mocha is likely to hit coastal districts Chattogram, Cox’s Bazar, Noakhali and Bhola in Bangladesh on Sunday.
The IMD said the storm was moving northward with a speed 9 km/h. On Friday, it was centered more than 1,000km southwest of Cox’s Bazar and 930km southwest of Sittwe in Myanmar.
Fishermen, ships, boats and trawlers were advised not to venture into the southeast Bay of Bengal and north Andaman Sea until Sunday, it said.
The department said it was expecting heavy to very heavy rainfall at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands as well.
The last tropical cyclone to have made landfall in Myanmar was named Maarutha and it had struck the southeast Asian nation in April 2017.
In May 2008, cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar’s southwestern Ayeyarwady or Irrawaddy region 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.
Additional reporting by agencies