Locals stay put, nowhere to escape; international agencies and government on their toes
Mocha, termed as an extremely severe cyclonic storm by India Meteorological Department (IMD) and as ‘Super Cyclone’ by a frontline international weather website, completed its landfall between 12.30 pm and 2.30 pm, Indian Standard Time (IST) on May 14, 2023, according to IMD.
“The Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm “Mocha” … crossed north Myanmar-southeast Bangladesh coasts between Kyaukpyu (Myanmar) and Cox’s Bazar (Bangladesh) close to north of Sittwe (Myanmar) near latitude 20.25°N and longitude 92.75°E as an Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm with wind speed of 180-190 kmph gusting to 210 kmph during 1230 to 1430 hours IST of today, the 14th May 2023,” a ‘special hourly message’ by IMD stated.
The storm lay centered over coastal Myanmar near latitude 20.5°N and longitude 92.9°E, about 40 km north of Sittwe (Myanmar) and 145 km southeast of Cox’s Bazar (Bangladesh) at 2.30 pm IST, the note added.
“The system is continuing the weakening trend and will weaken into a very severe cyclonic storm during next 3 hours,” it said.
Earlier at noon on May 14, IMD Director-General Mrutyunjoy Mohapatra had told this reporter, “Yes, the landfall has started at about 12.30 pm and is to continue till 2.30 pm.”
Mohapatra had pointed out that the wind speed was in the category under ‘extremely severe cyclonic storm’.
“We have not said it,” he added, when this reporter pointed out that several weather websites had termed Mocha as a ‘super cyclone’. “Cyclone is moving as per predicted speed,” he had added.
The latest IMD bulletin has pegged the maximum sustained surface wind speed as 210 to 220 km per hour with gusting at 240 km, barely 1-2 km less than the wind speed required to be qualified as a super cyclone.
The Zoom Earth website however claimed that the system turned into a super cyclone from May 13 night, attaining 260 km per hour maximum speed.
Mocha making landfall as shown on the Zoom Earth website
Weather scientist Raghu Murtugudde of Indian Institute of Technology Mumbai and University of Maryland, United States, pointed out that it was difficult to pinpoint the category unless detailed data was available and IMD had all the reasons to play safe.
The powerful cyclone is bringing heavy rain and flooding, said one person in the area with whom this reporter spoke briefly before being disconnected.
“The cyclone has started, though the speed is not extremely high yet. We are still in our shelter but do not know how long we will have to stay here,” said Muhammad Shobbir, a Rohingya refugee staying in Balukhali camp, about 100 km away from the landfall point.
Later, Shobbir informed that the wind speed had been increasing consistently.
“Since yesterday, we have tried to tighten our homes with ropes but do not know how useful that will be,” Shobbir added while sharing live video shots with this reporter about an hour before landfall. The entire area looked dark and hardly a few people could be seen outside.
“Perhaps a major devastation will happen over the next few hours and we have nowhere to escape,” said another migrant, who doubles up as a non-profit worker.
“Local government, international agencies and local non-profits have tried to instil resilience over the last few days but it is a drop of water in an ocean,” admitted a developmental worker from the area working for an international non-profit.
According to IMD and other sites, the landfall point is just north of Sittwe. According to various live cyclone tracking sites, including IMD, the landfall point is around 80 km south of the Bangladesh border and the town of Teknaf housing 260,000 Rohingya refugees.
The point is about 120 km south of Balukhali camp in Cox’s Bazar that houses 500,000 Rohingya refugees — much more than the population of countries like Brunei, the Bahamas or Iceland.
The refugees, who fled from Myanmar’s Rakhine state, are already extremely vulnerable and live under highly stressed conditions. The cyclone can multiply the vulnerability quotient many times.
Nearly a million Rohingya refugees have been living in 33 camps in and around Cox’s Bazar, mostly under tarpaulins or makeshift dwellings made of bamboo, polythene wrappers, tin and other material. They are likely to be blown away in the face of strong winds.
“Experts fear that Cyclonic Storm Mocha could be the most devastating storm to hit Myanmar since the catastrophic Nargis in 2008, which claimed the lives of 100,000 people. Moreover, it poses a significant threat to Bangladesh, potentially becoming the most powerful storm the country has faced in two decades,” intergovernmental research institute International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) said in a release.
The World Meteorological Organization had earlier expressed deep concern for the Rohingya refugees being stationary in the region, almost sitting ducks to the marauding cyclone.
ICIMOD shared the same concern stating that, “It is the most vulnerable communities in our regional member countries that are likely to bear the brunt of Storm Mocha.”
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