Damage to roads and bridges is delaying rescue efforts in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State after a powerful ocean storm struck Sunday.
Cyclone Mocha brought winds measured at nearly 200 kilometers an hour. The storm tore the tops from homes and created a storm surge that flooded the state capital of Sittwe. Mocha was the most powerful storm to hit the area since Cyclone Nargis in 2008.
Many people are feared dead, but Reuters news service has been unable to confirm a number. Nongovernmental groups say storm damage to communications and transportation lines as well as continuing military restrictions have delayed information and aid.
Early reports from Myanmar’s state media said a small number of people had died. The website Myanmar Now claimed hundreds, while aid groups said there were a “significant number of deaths.”
Manny Maung of Human Rights Watch said, “It’s difficult to obtain accurate or up to date information.”
Local leaders told the French news agency AFP that 41 people had died in the village of Bu Ma and hundreds were missing.
The cyclone also struck Bangladesh. There, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said more than 700,000 people had been moved to shelters. But no deaths were reported. Officials have credited early warning systems and better preparation by local officials for saving thousands of lives. However, officials warn many people are still missing.
News reports say large numbers of people were also evacuated in Myanmar. Myanmar’s state media said Tuesday that military government chief Min Aung Hlaing visited Sittwe to observe the damage and to donate money.
Rakhine State is home to a large population of Rohingya Muslims, a minority group that has suffered from what international groups call ethnic attacks by Myanmar’s military. Myanmar refuses to recognize the group as citizens of the country saying they are Bangladeshis.
More than one million Rohingya refugees are believed to live in camps in neighboring Bangladesh. They fled Myanmar in large numbers after the military took action against them in 2017.
I’m Mario Ritter Jr.