Cyclone Mocha: People pack shelters as storm surge threatens Bangladesh

  • Posted by Ragini Vadyanathan
  • BBC News, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

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Red flags warn people of impending danger

About half a million people are being evacuated to safer areas in southeastern Bangladesh, ahead of a cyclone that could be very dangerous.

Mocha is expected to make landfall on Sunday, with winds of 170 kilometers per hour (106 mph) and gusts up to 3.6 meters (12 feet).

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

It is already raining on the camp and raising red warning flags.

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

As the weather system moves toward the coast of Bangladesh and Myanmar, nearby airports have been closed, fishermen have been told to suspend their work and 1,500 shelters have been set up, as people are moved from vulnerable areas to safer locations.

“We are ready to take any risks… We don’t want to lose a single life,” Vibhushan Kanti Das, additional deputy commissioner in Cox’s Bazar, told the BBC.

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People crowd into hurricane shelters as the storm approaches

Throughout the day, families arrive at hurricane shelters. Hundreds were packing into classrooms at a school in Cox’s Bazar.

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

She said she was afraid of this cyclone, after her home was damaged in Cyclone Citrang last year as well.

“I am worried about what will happen next,” Jannat told the BBC. “I am afraid my house will be flooded again.”

The nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees who fled neighboring Myanmar (also known as Burma) remain vulnerable, living in flimsy bamboo shelters with tarpaulin sheets. The United Nations says it is doing everything it can to protect these areas.

The Bangladesh government does not allow refugees to leave their camps, so many say they are scared and unsure what will happen if the storm hits their shelters.

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Muhammad Rafeeq (centre) says all he and his family can do is pray

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

Such shelters with tarpaulin roofs are unlikely to provide much protection from strong winds and heavy rain.

Muhammad says that all we can do is pray to God to save us. “We have nowhere to go for safety, no one to turn to.”

“We have faced many difficulties before and our homes have been destroyed in the past. We hope it will not happen this time,” he adds.

Forecasters expect the cyclone to bring heavy rains, which could trigger landslides – a serious hazard for those staying in hillside camps, where landslides are a regular phenomenon.

But he said getting the refugees out of the camps is not an easy task.

“Relocating a million refugees is very difficult, and carrying out the movement is difficult. We have to be pragmatic,” the official said.

“Our plan is to save lives. We are also focusing on the following days. There may be heavy rains that lead to floods and landslides, which can also be a danger.”

In Myanmar, it started to rain Friday evening in Sittwe City, the capital of Rakhine State. The streets emptied as people took refuge in shelters, and many sought safety in hurricane shelters on higher ground.

There are almost no life jackets, while the remaining stock is sold at a premium. Gas stations are also closed on Saturdays, making it difficult for people to get out of town.

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