A tidal surge caused by Cyclone Mocha killed 19 residents of a Rohingya village in Rathedaung Township, Rakhine State, last week, despite a rescue operation by the Arakan Army (AA), according to local sources.
The storm, which made landfall at around noon on May 14, was followed within hours by rising tides that engulfed the Rakhine coast, killing hundreds in vulnerable communities.
In the village of Nyaungbingyi, however, most were able to escape the impact of the deadly storm thanks to the efforts of the AA, an ethnic Arakanese armed group active in the northern part of the state.
“The villagers lived only because our Arakanese brothers from the nearby villages helped us. The soldiers and captains from the AA supervised the evacuation, which helped us save a large number of people,” said Aung Naing Soe, a 22-year-old social worker helping the disaster victims.
According to a resident of the village, many of those who died had taken shelter in a two-storey house that was swept away by the storm surge.
“My wife and child were among the victims,” said 40-year-old Nyaungbingyi resident Than Myint, who told Myanmar Now that he returned to the village after taking another child to a safer location, only to find that the house had collapsed.
“I took my younger child to another village, so I wasn’t there when it happened. When I returned, the house and everyone in it was gone,” he said.
Nyaungbingyi is located near the Mayu River, about 8 miles south of Rathedaung’s administrative centre. Before the cyclone, it had around 400 houses and 2,100 inhabitants.
Most of the village’s houses are now damaged, however, and its residents are in urgent need of food and water, according to Aung Naing Soe.
“We are running out of drinking water, as seawater got into all the freshwater ponds. Many people from the village were injured as well, so we need emergency medical assistance, water, and food supplies,” he said.
He added that while 70% of the village’s population was moved out of harm’s way ahead of the storm, most of those who stayed behind had taken shelter in the village’s mosque.
According to local news outlet Narinjara, eight of the victims were male and 11 were female. Thirteen were minors between the ages of nine months and 15 years old, while the rest were aged from 18 to 65.
The Arakan Emergency Aid and Rehabilitation Committee, a social welfare organisation operated by the AA, said that more than 5,000 locals from nine villages, including Nyaungbingyi, are now facing a lack of drinking water in Rathedaung Township.
Most of those reported dead in the wake of Cyclone Mocha were living in camps set up near the state capital Sittwe to house Rohingya displaced by waves of violence targeting them over the past decade.
Aung Kyaw Moe, an advisor to the publicly mandated National Unity Government’s Ministry of Human Rights, told Myanmar Now that the regime’s refusal to remove restrictions on the Rohingya people’s movements at a time when they are in need of disaster relief is simply “a continuation of the military council’s genocide” against the persecuted minority.
Social welfare groups say they are still waiting for the junta to grant them permission to conduct emergency rescue operations in storm-affected areas.
They add that they have so far only been able to collect information on victims living in camps near Sittwe, while the impact of Cyclone Mocha on Rohingya villages in Rathedaung, Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships remains largely unknown.
At a press briefing held on Tuesday, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Myanmar, Ramanathan Balakrishnan, described the current situation as “an emergency within an emergency.”
“This cyclone has hit one of country’s poorest areas, where there were already high pre-existing needs, leaving these communities extremely vulnerable,” he said.
Describing the latest assessment of the cyclone’s impact as “much worse than expected,” he noted that hundreds of thousands of people have been left homeless ahead of the coming monsoon season.
“Barely a building has escaped damage in areas of highest impact along the coast between Sittwe and Rathedaung in Rakhine State,” he said.