Some 350,000 Muslim Rohingya have been evacuated as a powerful cyclone struck their refugee camps in Bangladesh. Authorities in Chittagong district moved at least 350,000 Bangladeshis out of harm’s way.
Cyclone Mora struck the island of Saint Martin and Teknaf in the coastal Bangladeshi district of Cox’s Bazar, where officials said some 200,000 people were evacuated to shelters. In, about 150,000 people were evacuated.
Three people have been killed by the cyclone.
The border area is also home to refugee camps for Rohingyas who have fled persecution in their homeland in northwest Myanmar.
Shamsul Alam, a Rohingya community leader, told Reuters that damage in the camps was severe with almost all the 10,000 thatched huts in the Balukhali and Kutupalong camps destroyed.
“Most of the temporary houses in the camps have been flattened,” Alam said.
Omar Farukh, a community leader in Kutupalong camp, said conditions were dire: “Now we’re in the open air.”
Cox’s Bazar district chief Mohammad Ali Hussin said at least 15,000 houses in the district had been destroyed and he had unconfirmed reports of three people killed and dozens injured, including several Rohingya refugees.
Officials in Chittagong reported winds gusting up to 135 kph (85 mph), and said low-lying coastal areas were flooded by a storm surge with waves 2 meters (7 feet) high.
Last October, following a Myanmar army operation launched in response to insurgent attacks, an estimated 74,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh where they joined more than 200,000 who have taken refuge there over the years.
The Bangladeshi government has estimated that in all, there are about 350,000 Rohingyas in Bangladesh.
In predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, where Rohingyas are officially denied citizenship and classified as illegal immigrants, about 120,000 of them have been internally displaced by communal violence over recent years and are living in camps.
A UN official working with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh said the damage in the camps could not be assessed while the storm was raging.
“Heavily pregnant women have been evacuated but most people in areas like Balukhali and Kutupalong makeshift settlements have stayed,” said the official, who declined to be identified.
“The winds are strong and people there live in flimsy structures, so we’re worried.”
In Myanmar, about 300 houses were damaged in Rakhine State but the extent was unclear, the government said.
But Bangladeshi weather officials said the cyclone was not as bad as they had feared.
“The severity was less than the apprehension,” Shamsuddin Ahmed, a weather official based in Chittagong said.
The cyclone was expected to weaken in Bangladesh by late morning as it moved inland towards India where authorities have warned of heavy rain in the northeastern states of Tripura, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh.
The cyclone formed after monsoon rains triggered floods and landslides in Sri Lanka, off India’s southern tip, killing at least 180 people in recent days, authorities said, adding 99 people were missing and 112 had been injured.
In the eastern Indian state of Bihar, 24 people have been killed in recent days, either by lightning or in collapsed dwellings.
In May last year Cyclone Roanu hit the southern coast of Bangladesh, leaving 20 people dead and forcing half a million to flee their homes.
In 2007 Cyclone Sidr killed nearly 4,000 people and caused damage worth billions of dollars.
Flash floods and torrential rain led to landslides in hilly areas, which caused most of the casualties.
Bangladesh is routinely hit between April and December by severe storms that cause deaths and widespread damage.