Nearly 400 Rohingya refugees in Myanmar’s Rakhine state were likely killed by Cyclone Mocha, the country’s parallel Government of National Unity and local aid workers told RFA on Tuesday.
The NUG said the figure was based on estimates of the damage, as search and rescue teams have not recovered any bodies and many victims are still missing. The figure has not been independently verified by RFA.
Volunteers with the Muslim Aid and Relief Society collecting field data said most of the dead were children, pregnant women and the elderly. They said they’re still looking for bodies.
Aung Kyaw Moe, a Rohingya adviser to the Government of National Unity, told RFA on Tuesday that most of the victims were from Sittwe Township.
“Some are still missing. This is just in Sittwe,” she said.
“Bodies were found in the streets and under trees. Search and rescue hasn’t been done yet, so we can’t pick up the bodies. All the refugee camps were severely damaged.”
He said the actual number of victims could be much higher.
‘Refugee camps are open-air prisons’.
There are 21 Rohingya refugee camps in Rakhine State with 120,000 refugees housed in 13 camps in Sittwe Township.
Nay San Lwin, co-founder of the Free Rohingya Coalition, said the refugees were staying in makeshift tents that were mostly destroyed when the cyclone hit.
“Most of the Rohingya refugee camps did not have time to evacuate (before) the cyclone,” he said.
“Lives are lost when there are no shelters to evacuate from the cyclone. The tents were destroyed. Refugee camps are open-air prisons.”
Residents of Sittwe Township said most of the camps were built close to the sea, making them vulnerable to strong waves, offshore winds and torrential rains.
Nearly a million Rohingya were forced to leave their homes in Rakhine state following a military crackdown on the Muslim minority in 2017.
Some 740,000 fled to Bangladesh and live in Cox’s Bazar, also hard hit by Cyclone Mocha.
Those who stayed live in camps for internally displaced persons, poorly funded by the junta and volunteer groups.
Gathering information on cyclone victims has been difficult because there are only a few volunteers from the Muslim community collecting data in the field, a member of the data collection team, speaking on condition of anonymity, told RFA.
It is also difficult to collect data on the ground after the collapse of Sittwe’s largest telecommunications tower when the cyclone struck on May 14, cutting phone lines and internet access.
RFA calls to the junta spokesman for Rakhine state, Hla Thein, went unanswered on Tuesday.
Cyclone Mocha hit the Myanmar coast on Sunday with sustained winds reaching 220 kilometers per hour (137 mph).
According to preliminary figures compiled exclusively by RFA, there have been at least 30 deaths from the cyclone in Rakhine and Chin states, and the Ayeyarwady, Magway and Sagaing regions.
Rakhine State and the Ayeyarwady region were hit hard by Cyclone Nargis in 2008, leaving nearly 140,000 people dead or missing.
Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Mike Firn.