Residents of coastal areas of Myanmar’s Rakhine State and Ayeyarwady Region have begun fleeing their homes ahead of the expected landfall of Cyclone Mocha later this week.
According to the meteorological agencies of India and Myanmar, the deep depression over the Bay of Bengal intensified into a cyclonic storm on Wednesday night.
As of 10:30am on Thursday, it was situated about 615 miles southwest of the Rakhine State capital Sittwe, Myanmar’s meteorological department said.
It is expected to reach a maximum sustained wind speed of up to 100 miles per hour by Sunday, when it will likely make landfall between Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh and northern coastal areas of Rakhine State’s Kyaukphyu Township, the agency added.
The storm is expected to impact the entire Rakhine coast, as well as parts of Ayeyarwady Region.
According to social welfare groups in the Ayeyarwady delta towns of Labutta and Myaungmya, at least 10,000 residents of nearby villages have already left their homes to take shelter in urban areas.
“They can come up to the towns, but the authorities won’t allow them to go back to the delta,” one relief worker told Myanmar Now on Tuesday.
Most of the villagers are staying in schools and monasteries or with relatives, he said, adding that donors have been providing food as villagers continue to arrive.
However, some residents of vulnerable areas have chosen to remain in their villages, according to one Labutta local.
“Some people stayed behind to protect their property. They want to keep an eye on their houses, to make sure they’re safe from thieves,” he said.
But past experience has encouraged most to heed warnings about Cyclone Mocha. Fifteen years ago, on May 2-3, 2008, another storm, Cyclone Nargis, claimed more than 130,000 lives in the delta region and other towns, in the worst natural disaster in Myanmar’s history.
Meanwhile, residents of Pauktaw, Minbya, and Myebon townships in Rakhine State have also begun to take shelter in more secure areas. According to one local from Pauktaw, around 300 people have relocated to Kyein Khway Maw, a village located east of the Kaladan River, from other communities in the northwestern part of the township.
Other precautions have also been taken in anticipation of strong winds and heavy rain in the coming days, another Pauktaw local told Myanmar Now.
“People have started tying up their houses with ropes. Some have also fled to higher ground,” he said.
Both the Myanmar junta and the Arakan Army, an ethnic armed group based in northern Rakhine State, have been issuing cyclone warnings on social media. They also claim to have taken emergency measures.
Some ferry and other marine transport services have been halted but others are still operating, as the regime has not yet ordered any restrictions, according to the manager of a local ferry company.
The Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System has issued an overall red alert for Myanmar since the deep depression intensified into a cyclone.
It said that the cyclone could have a high humanitarian impact and that about two million people in the country would be exposed or vulnerable to the storm.