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Intellasia East Asia News – Powerful storm breaks communication network in Rakhine, Burma

One of the strongest storms to hit Myanmar in recent years severely disrupted communications in the impoverished Rakhine state, a major ethnic armed group and aid worker said on Monday, making it difficult to determine the scale of its impact.

Cyclone Mocha battered Myanmar’s western coast from the Bay of Bengal on Sunday afternoon, largely saving more than a million refugees in vulnerable camps in neighboring Bangladesh, but inundated Sittwe, the Rakhine capital, and toppled at least one communications tower.

Calls by Reuters reporters to 11 phone numbers in the region went unanswered and at least a dozen other people said they could not reach their relatives in Sittwe.

Some 400,000 people were evacuated in Myanmar and Bangladesh before Cyclone Mocha made landfall, as authorities and aid agencies scrambled to avoid large numbers of casualties.

“All communication is still down and people are in trouble because all the roofs are gone,” said Khine Thu Kha, a spokesman for the Arakan Army, which controls swaths of Rakhine state. “We are using military devices to communicate with them.”

Benjamin Small, a consultant to the United Nations Development Programme, said it was difficult to comprehend the extent of the destruction due to the disruption of communications in Rakhine.

“But with reported winds of 250 kph (155 mph) making Cyclone Mocha one of the strongest on record in Myanmar and worrying images online, it’s not looking good,” Small said on his Twitter account.

In 2008, Cyclone Nargis battered parts of Myanmar with 150 mph (240 kph) winds, killing nearly 140,000 people.

Since a junta headed a democratically elected government two years ago, Myanmar has been plunged into chaos and a resistance movement is fighting the military on several fronts following the crackdown on protests.

A board spokesman did not immediately return a phone call from Reuters seeking comment.

The military has imposed internet blackouts in parts of the country, including some areas in Rakhine and neighboring Chin state, which was also in the path of Cyclone Mocha.

“There is a significant overlap between the closed areas and the track of the cyclone, which is a big concern as it is hampering efforts to reach people,” said digital rights activist Htaike Htaike Aung.

In remote and mountainous Chin, which has previously witnessed heavy fighting between the junta and the resistance, storm-battered areas have been subject to a communications blackout since the coup, the Chin Human Rights Organization said.

“We have not yet been able to establish the extent of the devastation,” said the group’s deputy director, Salai Za Uk Ling. “The storm itself is a trigger for more problems as heavy rains continue and landslides and flooding tend to follow.”

Category: Regional

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