A powerful cyclone that raced through Myanmar’s northwest region has killed at least 145 people, including 117 members of the Muslim Rohingya minority.
The category five cyclone â€“ one of the most powerful to ever hit the region in over two decades â€“ made landfall between Sittwe in Myanmarâ€™s Rakhine state and Coxâ€™s Bazar in Bangladesh, which is home to over a million Muslim Rohingya refugees fleeing a deadly 2017 military crackdown and ethnic persecution.
The ravaging storm brought lashing rain and strong winds that collapsed houses, uprooted trees and knocked out communications across much of Myanmar’s Rakhine state. The Burmese military has declared the whole of Rakhine as a natural disaster area. No death have been reported in the neighbouring Bangladesh.
Damage from the storm has made it difficult to access remote and difficult-to-reach locations, and the junta’s previous travel restrictions have slowed the delivery of crucial relief to populations who are desperately in need. According to residents in the region, the storm caused massive damage and “hundreds” of deaths, and they were still waiting for assistance, Al Jazeera reported.
Rakhine state spokesperson issued a denial of reports that hundreds of people had died, saying that only 46 deaths in the state had been confirmed so far. He said confirmation of further deaths would require investigations. Myanmar’s junta-backed media reported that naval ships and the air force had brought in thousands of bags of rice, while thousands of electricians, firefighters and rescue workers had been deployed across the storm-affected region.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said the destruction of homes and infrastructure was widespread in Rakhine. â€œThe impact of the cyclone was also felt heavily in the countryâ€™s northwest where houses were blown or washed away. Strong winds and rains have also damaged camps for displaced people in Kachin state,â€ the UN agency said, adding that there are rising concerns in flooded areas about the spread of waterborne disease and the movement of landmines.
In 2008, Cyclone Nargis devastated Myanmar’s Irrawaddy Delta, killing at least 138,000 people.