Cyclone Mocha People pack up shelters as storm threatens Bangladesh

Cyclone Mocha: People pack up shelters as storm threatens Bangladesh – BBC

  • By Rajini Vaidyanathan
  • BBC News, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

May 13, 2023 at 08:35 BST

Updated 36 minutes ago

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Red flags warn people of imminent danger

About half a million people are being evacuated to safer areas in south-east Bangladesh ahead of a cyclone threat that could be extremely dangerous.

Mocha is expected to make landfall on Sunday with winds of 170 km/h (106 miles per hour) and storm surges up to 3.6 m (12 feet).

There are concerns the cyclone could hit the world’s largest refugee camp, Cox’s Bazar, where nearly a million people live in makeshift shelters.

It is already raining over the camp and red warning flags have been raised.

Cyclone Mocha could be the strongest storm to hit Bangladesh in nearly two decades.

As the weather system moves towards the coasts of Bangladesh and Myanmar, nearby airports have been closed, fishermen have been ordered to halt their work and 1,500 emergency shelters have been set up while people from vulnerable areas are evacuated to safety.

“We are ready to face all dangers… we don’t want to lose a single life,” Vibhushan Kanti Das, an additional deputy commissioner at Cox’s Bazar, told the BBC.

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People huddle in cyclone shelters as the storm approaches

Families continued to arrive at the designated cyclone shelters throughout the day. Hundreds flocked to classrooms at a school in Cox’s Bazar.

Some brought plastic bags filled with some of their belongings. Others came with their livestock, chickens and cattle.

17-year-old Jannat took a seat on the desk in the classroom with her two-month-old baby. She had a few clothes in a bag, but nothing else. Her husband was still at her home on the coast making sure things were safe before joining her.

She said she is scared of this cyclone after her home was also damaged by Cyclone Sitrang last year.

“I’m worried about what’s next,” Jannat told the BBC. “I’m afraid that my house will be flooded again.”

Nearly a million Rohingya refugees who fled neighboring Myanmar (also known as Burma) remain vulnerable, living in flimsy bamboo shelters with tarpaulin covers. The UN states that they are doing their utmost to protect these areas.

The Bangladesh government does not allow the refugees to leave their camps. Many say they are scared and unsure of what would happen if their homes were hit by the storm.

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Mohammad Rafique (centre) says all he and his family can do is pray

Mohammad Rafique, 40, and his family live in one of the small bamboo shelters built for refugees.

Such canvas shelters are unlikely to offer much protection from strong winds and heavy rain.

All we can do is pray to God to save us, says Mohammad. “We have no place to go to safety and no one to turn to.”

He adds: “We have had many difficulties and our homes have been destroyed in the past. We hope that doesn’t happen this time.”

Meteorologists predict the cyclone will bring a deluge of rain that can trigger landslides – a serious hazard for those living in mountain camps where landslides occur regularly.

MD Shamsul Douza of the Bangladesh government office that oversees the refugees and camps told the BBC it is working with NGOs to ensure camps are as cyclone-prepared as possible.

However, he said that getting refugees out of the camps is not an easy task.

“Transporting a million refugees is very difficult, implementing the movement is difficult. We have to be practical,” the official said.

“Our plan is to save lives. We also focus on the days after. There may be heavy rains causing flash floods and landslides, which would also pose a risk.”

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Bangladesh and Myanmar prepare for Cyclone Mocha

In Myanmar, it started raining in Sittwe City, capital of Rakhine State, on Friday evening. The streets emptied as people took shelter, and many took shelter in cyclone shelters on high ground.

There are almost no life jackets left, while the remaining stock is being sold at a higher price. Gas stations were also closed on Saturday, making it difficult for people to drive out of town by car.