Volunteers in Bangladesh’s coastal districts on Saturday used loudspeakers to urge people to take shelter as the delta nation braced for a very strong cyclone, which is expected to hit the coasts of Bangladesh and Myanmar in the next 24 hours.
UN agencies and aid workers have packed tons of dry food and dozens of ambulances with mobile medical teams into sprawling refugee camps housing more than a million Rohingya who have fled persecution in Myanmar.
The camps in Cox’s Bazar are in the path of Cyclone Beehive, which was closing in on the coast of southeastern Bangladesh and Myanmar with winds of up to 135 miles per hour and gusts of up to 150 mph, the India Meteorological Department said. It is expected to make landfall between Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar and Myanmar’s Kyaukpyu on Sunday.
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Bangladesh, home to more than 160 million people, has prepared more than 1,500 cyclone shelters. The Navy said it is keeping 21 ships, maritime patrol aircraft and helicopters ready for rescue and relief operations.
In Myanmar, rain and wind have been picking up since Friday and have prompted more than 10,000 people in villages around Sittwe in Rakhine state to seek shelter in fortified buildings, including monasteries, temples and schools, said Lin Lin, chairman of Maittar’s Yang Chi Charity Foundation. .
“Currently, about 20 places have been arranged for people to stay in Sittwe. But as there were more people than we expected, there was not enough food for the next day. We are still trying to get it,” he said.
Speaking from Cox’s Bazar across the border in Bangladesh, the International Organization for Migration’s deputy chief of mission, Nihan Erdogan, said Bangladesh had a comprehensive preparedness plan.
He said his organization has trained 100 volunteers in each of the 17 refugee camps on how to alert rescuers using flag warning signs due to heavy rain, flooding and strong winds in the region. “Emergency shelter materials and hygiene kits are readily available, and all volunteers are provided with personal protective gear.”
WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said 40 ambulances and 33 mobile medical teams were on standby in Cox’s Bazar.
Bangladesh authorities said heavy rains from the cyclone could trigger landslides in Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar and three hilly districts – Rangamati, Bandarban and Khagrachari.
Bangladesh has issued the highest alert for Cox’s Bazar, which is prone to natural disasters like floods and cyclones. The Bangladesh Meteorological Department has warned that the cyclone may cause heavy damage to life and property in eight coastal districts.
Director General of Disaster Management Department Mizanur Rahman said that they have asked the local authorities of 20 districts and sub-districts to prepare quickly. He said they were particularly concerned about St. Martin, a small coral island in the Bay of Bengal, where efforts are underway to save thousands of residents.
Myanmar said in its weather bulletin that the cyclone was moving towards the coast of Rakhine state near Sittwe, which was placed under maximum weather alert.
The World Food Program says it has prepared enough food to meet the needs of more than 400,000 people for one month in Rakhine and surrounding areas.
“We are preparing for the worst, hoping for the best. Cyclone Mocha is headed for an area burdened by conflict, poverty and weak community resilience,” said WFP’s Myanmar Deputy Director, Sheila Mathew. “Many people are already dependent on regular humanitarian assistance from WFP. They simply cannot afford another disaster.”
At least 190 people were killed in February and March Cyclone Freddy South Africa has made landfall twice, according to UN figures.
In May 2008, Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar with a storm that devastated populated areas around the Irrawaddy River Delta. At least 138,000 people died and hundreds of thousands of homes and other buildings were swept away.
Roxy Mathew Cole, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune, said climate change is causing cyclones to become faster in the Bay of Bengal.
The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported on Friday that thousands of people living along the western coast of Rakhine state had been evacuated.
Authorities in both India and Bangladesh said they expected heavy to very heavy rainfall over the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Andaman Sea, parts of India’s remote northeast and across Bangladesh from Saturday night.
Climate scientists say cyclones can now retain their strength for days, such as Cyclone Amphan in eastern India in 2020, which continued to travel over land as a powerful cyclone and caused widespread devastation. “As long as the oceans are warm and the winds are favorable, hurricanes will maintain their intensity for a long time,” Cole said.
Cyclones are one of the world’s most devastating natural disasters, especially if they affect densely populated coastal areas in South Asia.