Hundreds of thousands of people began repairing or rebuilding their homes and livelihoods on Monday after a deadly cyclone hit Myanmar and Bangladesh over the weekend.
The storm, named Mocha, killed several people in Myanmar, though there were conflicting accounts from leaders as to exactly how many. Myanmar’s government put the number at five, but the shadow government, called the Government of National Unity, which may have more sources in the country’s remote conflict zones, put the number at 18.
Although the damage from the powerful storm was not as severe as predicted, there were still hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees left homeless, along with reports of people stranded and having to fight their way through storm debris to reach to home.
Damage in Myanmar was mainly confined to Rakhine State, Chin State and other areas in the west, according to officials and aid workers.
Ko Myo Khaing, a rescue worker in the city of Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state, said two people were reported killed in his area.
“At least 90 percent of Sittwe was destroyed by the storm,” he said. “There is still no electricity and the phone lines are down. The number of people affected is unknown, due to communication difficulties.”
Khaing Thu Kha, a spokesman for the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine militia, said rain damaged food collected for the emergency and while flooding in Sittwe had receded, it was still high in other areas.
“Since it is impossible for us to help with our revolutionary forces alone, I would like to ask neighboring countries, including the UN, for help,” the spokesman said.
In Chin state, where phone and internet lines have been cut since Myanmar’s generals staged a coup in February 2021, communication was briefly restored just before the cyclone hit. But that was not enough.
“We didn’t have enough time to tell people to evacuate,” said Salai Mang Hre Lian, a program manager for the Chin Human Rights Organization.
Although there were no immediate reports of deaths in Chin State, Mr. Lian said more than a thousand people were stranded in the forests, in dire need of shelter, food and medicine, unable to return to their homes. Transportation was harrowing; the travelers had to deal with military patrols and unexploded ordnance, along with the effects of the storm itself. Those conditions also hampered the delivery of relief supplies.
Before the cyclone made landfall, strong winds and rain ripped through the canvas and bamboo huts of Rohingya refugees living in shabby camps along the Bangladeshi coast. More than a million Rohingya sought refuge in Bangladesh after fleeing persecution in Rakhine state, and now inhabit the world’s largest camp.
The storm made landfall on Sunday afternoon in the coastal area around Cox’s Bazar, right on the Bangladeshi border with Myanmar, according to the Bangladesh Meteorological Department. At that time, it had winds of up to 155 miles per hour, according to estimates from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center just before landfall.
Videos posted on social media showed men and women swimming in the water and surrounded by broken power poles, bursting tile roofs, billboards and crumpled sheet metal.
In Bangladesh, where no deaths were immediately reported, the cyclone damaged around 3,000 Rohingya shelters and some were completely destroyed, authorities said. The Bangladesh refugee commissioner’s office reported that 32 learning centers and 29 mosques were damaged.
The refugee camps, which stretch out over rolling, muddy terrain, suffered 120 landslides during the storm and at least 5,300 refugees were relocated to safer locations. In the wider Cox’s Bazar region, a total of 13,000 houses were damaged or destroyed. Some 250,000 people were in need of food and shelter on Sunday night, according to the Bangladeshi government.
In the Cox’s Bazar area, Arefa, 25, who goes by one name and lives with her husband and two children, ages 6 and 4, described in horror how the storm toppled a tree on top of her bamboo and plastic shack. . The family escaped unharmed and took refuge in the house of a community leader.
“I lay on the floor of someone’s house with my children next to me, thinking, ‘Are we going to go on like this all our lives?’” she said, her voice shaking.
TO series of fires and floods They have devastated Rohingya camps in the past six years, but Ms Arefa’s hut had only been damaged once before: two years ago, when another storm blew the canvas roof off. Life for her had already been hard for her family in Myanmar, even before October 2016, when the armed forces arrived in her village and burned it down. Her family was left homeless and she had no choice but to flee to Bangladesh, she said, a journey that took several days on foot.
Now they’re going to have to start over. She returned to her battered shack this morning, she said, to discover that someone had stolen the cooking gas cylinder. “We want to go back to Myanmar, but there is no hope of that happening soon,” she said. “My two children, I don’t see a future for them.”
judson jones contributed reporting.