The death toll in cyclone-hit Myanmar’s Rakhine state rose to 41 on Tuesday, local leaders told AFP, as villagers tried to piece together ruined homes and waited for aid and support.
With winds of up to 195 kilometers per hour, Mocha made landfall on Sunday, downing power pylons and smashing wooden fishing boats to splinters.
At least 41 people died in the villages of Bu Ma and nearby Khaung Doke Kar, inhabited by the persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority, local leaders told AFP reporters at the scene.
‘There will be more deaths, as more than a hundred people are missing,’ said Karlo, the head of Bu Ma village near state capital Sittwe.
Nearby, Aa Bul Hu Son, 66, said prayers at the grave of his daughter, whose body was recovered on Tuesday morning.
‘I wasn’t in good health before the cyclone, so we were delayed in moving to another place,’ he told AFP.
‘While we were thinking about moving, the waves came immediately and took us.’
‘I just found her body in the lake in the village and buried her right away. I can’t find any words to express my loss.’
Other residents walked the seashore searching for family members swept away by a storm surge that accompanied the cyclone, AFP correspondents said.
Mocha was the most powerful cyclone to hit the area in over a decade, churning up villages, uprooting trees and knocking out communications across much of Rakhine state.
Myanmar’s junta said on Monday that five people were killed, without specifying where.
It was not clear if that toll included any of those killed in Bu Ma and Khaung Doke Kar.
AFP has contacted a junta spokesman for comment on the new death toll.
A local resident looks at broken boats in Sittwe, in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, on May 15, 2023, after cyclone Mocha made a landfall.
‘No one has come to ask’
Widely viewed as interlopers in Myanmar, the Rohingya are denied citizenship and healthcare, and require permission to travel outside of their villages in western Rakhine state.
Many others live in camps after being displaced by decades of ethnic conflict.
The United Nations refugee office said it was investigating reports that Rohingya living in displacement camps had been killed in the storm.
It was ‘working to start rapid needs assessments in hard-hit areas’ of Rakhine state, it added.
In neighboring Bangladesh, officials told AFP that no one had died in the cyclone, which passed close to sprawling refugee camps that house almost one million Rohingya who fled a Myanmar military crackdown in 2017.
‘Although the impact of the cyclone could have been much worse, the refugee camps have been severely affected, leaving thousands desperately needing help,’ the UN said as it made an urgent appeal for aid late Monday.
Cyclones — the equivalent of hurricanes in the North Atlantic or typhoons in the Northwest Pacific — are a regular and deadly menace on the coast of the northern Indian Ocean where tens of millions of people live.
Non-profit ClimateAnalytics said rising temperatures may have contributed to Cyclone Mocha’s intensity.
‘We can see sea surface temperatures in the Bay of Bengal in the last month have been significantly higher than they were even 20 years ago,’ said the group’s Peter Pfleiderer.
‘Warmer oceans allow storms to gather power, quickly, and this has devastating consequences for people.’
On Tuesday, contact was slowly being restored with Sittwe, which is home to around 150,000 people, AFP reporters said, with roads being cleared and internet connections re-established.
Photos released by state media showed Rakhine-bound aid being loaded onto a ship in commercial hub Yangon.
Rohingya villagers told AFP that they were yet to receive any assistance.
‘No government, no organization has come to our village,’ said Kyaw Swar Win, 38, from Bu Ma village.
‘We haven’t eaten for two days… We haven’t got anything and all I can say is that no one has even come to ask.’