The strongest typhoon to hit Myanmar in more than a decade made landfall near the Bangladesh border on Sunday, sparking fears of a humanitarian catastrophe.
According to the Bangladesh Meteorological Department, the cyclone moved ashore in the coastal area around Cox’s Bazar on Sunday afternoon. It is a Bangladeshi city that is home to the world’s largest refugee camp.
By Sunday morning, maximum sustained winds had reached 160 mph, with gusts topping 180 mph, making it a Category 5 storm, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center. This is the highest rating on the Saffir-Simpson scale and indicates the potential for catastrophic damage.
According to Myanmar’s foreign ministry, waves were expected to reach 20 feet off the Rakhine coast. There were reports of damaged houses and boats from Myanmar and one social media user Clip posted A communication tower appears to show the moment it collapses in strong winds.
Officials and storm watchers expressed cautious hope, however, that the region could be spared the worst possible damage from the storm, as it weakens over land. The Joint Typhoon Warning Center has forecast maximum sustained winds of 120 mph and gusts of 150 mph in the next 12 hours.
Mostofa Kamal, a weather and climate researcher at the University of Saskatchewan, wrote on social media that the center of the storm began to pass between Myanmar’s St. Martin Island and Mangdo District, as the tide was going out. This reduces the impact of the storm.
“So far, the cyclone is passing through the north coastal area of Cox’s Bazar, and no reports of damage have been received yet,” said Muhammad Shaheen Imran, district administrator of Cox’s Bazar.
Bangladeshi officials said they expected the cyclone to pass by afternoon.
According to the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System, the storm, Cyclone Mocha, formed south of the Bay of Bengal on Thursday and is drenching western Myanmar as it churns northeast, with heavy rain, strong winds and storm surge forecast to continue until Sunday. .
Days before the storm hit, Myanmar and Bangladesh began deploying thousands of volunteers and ordered evacuations from low-lying areas, Agence France-Presse reported, in a region that is home to some of the world’s poorest people, who are particularly vulnerable to the escalating severity. is weather events.
In Myanmar, the risk of devastation is exacerbated by its ongoing civil war, which has displaced some 1.8 million people across the country, with the region south of the Bangladesh border an active fighting zone and home to several large refugee camps.
In Cox’s Bazar, more than 200,000 people were sent to 1,600 shelters. According to district officials, it has a capacity to accommodate around 500,000 people.
More than 1 million Rohingya people live in scattered camps.
The Explosive Ordnance Risk Education Organization in Myanmar has also issued a warning to the public about the dangers posed by land mines and unexploded ordnance during the storm.
The World Food Program has provided enough food for one month to 400,000 people in Rakhine State and neighboring areas.
“Cyclone Mocha is heading for areas burdened by conflict, poverty and weak community resilience,” Sheila Mathew, the agency’s deputy country director, said in a statement. “They simply cannot afford another disaster.”
With a storm of this magnitude, storm surge – the upwelling of water pushed along the coast by the wind like a hurricane – will also be a major concern near and south of the cyclone’s landfall.
Storm surge is often the greatest threat to life and property, according to the Hurricane Center.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s historical cyclone tracks, Mocha is likely to be the strongest storm to make landfall in Myanmar since Cyclone Giri in 2010 with winds of 143 mph. That storm killed at least 45 people in Myanmar.
Cyclones are extremely destructive. The term “cyclone” refers to a type of tropical cyclone—an umbrella term for all such storms, such as hurricanes and typhoons—that form in the Bay of Bengal or the Arabian Sea, both in the northern Indian Ocean.
Scientists say climate change has helped intensify storms because unusually warm ocean temperatures provide more energy to fuel them.
Cyclone Mocha comes as a deadly heat wave has been pummeling Southeast Asia for weeks. Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, recorded a temperature of 105.1 degrees in April, the highest temperature in six decades.
The Bay of Bengal, in the northeastern part of the Indian Ocean, has a long history of large storms.
In 2008, Cyclone Nargis became the second deadliest tropical cyclone on record and Myanmar’s deadliest, killing more than 135,000 people. In 2007, Cyclone Sidr struck Bangladesh, killing more than 3,000 people.