Hundreds of thousands of people began repairing or rebuilding their homes and livelihoods on Monday after a deadly hurricane battered Myanmar and Bangladesh over the weekend.
The storm, dubbed “Mocha,” killed several people in Myanmar, although there have been conflicting reports from leaders as to exactly how many. Myanmar’s government said the number was five, but the shadow government, known as the government of national unity, which may have more sources in the country’s remote conflict zones, said the number was 18.
Although damage from the violent storm was not as severe as predicted, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees were still left homeless and people were reportedly stranded, having to make their way through the storm’s debris to get home.
Most of the damage in Myanmar was confined to Rakhine State, Chin State and other western areas, according to officials and aid workers.
Ko Myo Khaing, a rescue worker in the city of Sittwe, capital of Rakhine state, said two people had reportedly died in her area.
“At least 90 percent of Sittwe was destroyed by the storm,” she said. “The power is still out and the phone lines are down. The number of people affected is unknown due to communication difficulties.”
Khaing Thu Kha, a spokesman for the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine militia, said emergency food collected had been damaged by the rain and that while flooding in Sittwe had receded, other areas were still high .
“Since it is impossible for us to help with our revolutionary forces alone, I would like to ask for help from neighboring countries, including the United Nations,” the spokesman said.
In Chin State, where phone and internet lines had been cut since the coup by Myanmar generals in February 2021, communications were briefly restored just before the cyclone hit. But that wasn’t enough.
“We didn’t have enough time to tell people to evacuate,” said Salai Mang Hre Lian, program manager of the Chin Human Rights Organization.
Although there were no immediate reports of casualties in Chin State, Mr Lian said more than a thousand people were stranded in the forests, in dire need of shelter, food and medicine, and unable to return to their homes. The transportation was harrowing; Travelers had to face military patrols and unexploded ordnance, as well as the effects of the storm themselves. These conditions also made it difficult to deliver relief supplies.
Before the cyclone made landfall, its strong winds and rains tore through the tarpaulin and bamboo-lined huts of Rohingya refugees living in shabby camps along Bangladesh’s coast. More than a million Rohingya sought refuge in Bangladesh after fleeing persecution in Rakhine state, and they now reside in the largest camp in the world.
According to the Bangladesh Meteorological Department, the storm hit the coastal area around Cox’s Bazar, just on Bangladesh’s border with Myanmar, on Sunday afternoon. At that time, According to estimates by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center, wind speeds of up to 250 kilometers per hour prevailed shortly before landing.
Videos posted to social media showed men and women wading in the water surrounded by broken power poles, blown-up tiled roofs, pieces of billboards and crumpled sheet metal.
In Bangladesh, where no deaths were initially reported, about 3,000 Rohingya shelters were damaged by the cyclone and some were completely destroyed, officials said. The Office of the Bangladesh Refugee Commissioner reported that 32 learning centers and 29 mosques were damaged.
The refugee camps, which are spread across hilly, muddy terrain, suffered 120 landslides during the storm and at least 5,300 refugees were relocated to safer locations. A total of 13,000 homes were damaged or destroyed in the wider Cox’s Bazar area. About 250,000 people needed food and shelter as of Sunday evening, according to the Bangladesh government.
In the Cox’s Bazar area, Arefa, 25, who goes by only one name and lives with her husband and two children, aged 6 and 4, described in horror how the storm downed a tree on her bamboo and plastic hut. The family escaped unharmed and fled to the home of a community leader.
“I lay down on the floor of a house with my kids next to me and thought, ‘Are we going to continue like this for the rest of our lives?'” she said, her voice shaking.
A series of fires and floods have devastated Rohingya camps over the past six years, but Ms Arefa’s barracks had only been damaged once before – two years ago, when another storm ripped away the canvas roof. Her family’s life in Myanmar was already hard even before armed forces came to her village and set it on fire in October 2016. Her family was left homeless and had no choice but to flee to Bangladesh, a journey that took several days on foot.
Now they have to start all over again. She returned to her run-down shack this morning, she said, to find someone had stolen the cooking gas bottle. “We want to return to Myanmar, but there is no hope that will happen soon,” she said. “My two children, I see no future for them.”
Judson Jones contributed reporting.