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Rescuers on Monday evacuated about 1,000 people trapped by seawater 12 feet deep along western Burma’s coast after a powerful cyclone injured hundreds and cut off communications. Six deaths were reported, but the true impact was not yet clear in one of Asia’s least developed countries.
Strong winds injured more than 700 of about 20,000 people who were sheltering in sturdier buildings on the highlands of Sittwe township, such as monasteries, pagodas and schools, according to a leader of the Rakhine Youths Philanthropic Association in Sittwe. He asked not to be named due to fear of reprisals from the authorities in the military-run country.
Seawater raced into more than 10 low-lying wards near the shore as Cyclone Mocha made landfall in Rakhine state Sunday afternoon, he said. Residents moved to roofs and higher floors, while the wind and storm surge prevented immediate rescue.
“After 4 p.m. yesterday, the storm weakened a bit, but the water did not fall back. Most of them sat on the roof and at the high places of their houses the whole night. The wind blew all night,” the rescue group leader said.
Water was still about 5 feet high in flooded areas later Monday, but rescues were being made as the wind calmed and the sun rose in the sky. He asked civil society organizations and authorities to send aid and help evacuate residents.
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Six deaths were reported by Burma media and rescue groups. Several injuries were reported in neighboring Bangladesh, which was spared the predicted direct hit.
Mocha made landfall near Sittwe township with winds blowing up to 130 miles per hour, Burma’s Meteorological Department said. By midday Monday, it had weakened to a tropical depression, according to the India Meteorological Department.
The State Administration Council issued disaster declarations for 17 townships in Rakhine state.
Locals ride motorbike after Cyclone Mocha devastate Rakhine State, Burma, on May 15, 2023. (AP Photo)
High winds crumpled cell phone towers, but in videos collected by local media before communications were lost, deep water raced through streets and wind blew off roofs.
Burma’s military information office said the storm had damaged houses and electrical transformers in Sittwe, Kyaukpyu, and Gwa townships. It said roofs were torn off buildings on the Coco Islands, about 264 miles southwest of the country’s largest city, Yangon.
Volunteers previously said shelters in Sittwe did not have enough food after more people arrived there seeking help.
Mocha largely spared the Bangladeshi city of Cox’s Bazar, which initially had been in the storm’s predicted path. Authorities had evacuated hundreds of thousands of people before the cyclone veered east.
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A Bangladesh government official, Enamur Rahman, said the damage was still being assessed, but that about 2,000 homes had been destroyed and 10,000 others were damaged on Saint Martin’s Island and Teknaf in Cox’s Bazar district.
He said no deaths were reported.
About a dozen people were injured on Saint Martin’s Island, the Prothom Alo newspaper reported.
U.N. agencies and aid workers in Bangladesh had prepositioned tons of dry food and dozens of ambulances in the refugee camps that house more than 1 million Rohingya Muslims who fled persecution in Burma.
In May 2008, Cyclone Nargis hit Burma 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.
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.
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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,” Koll said.
Tropical cyclones, which are called hurricanes or typhoons in other regions, are among the world’s most devastating natural disasters when they hit densely populated coastal areas.