Cyclone Mocha wreaks havoc on Myanmar, disrupts Rakhine state communications
Severe disruption of communications has occurred in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, as Cyclone Mocha, one of the strongest storms to hit the region in recent years, made landfall between Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh and Myanmar’s port city of Sittwe. The cyclone has affected the ability to assess the scale of its impact, with phone lines and internet connections down in the area.
Cyclone Mocha, the largest storm to hit the Bay of Bengal in over a decade, spared over a million refugees in vulnerable camps in Bangladesh but caused flooding in Rakhine’s capital, Sittwe, and damaged at least one communications tower. Approximately 400,000 people were evacuated in Myanmar and Bangladesh as authorities and aid agencies worked to avoid heavy casualties reports Channel News Asia.
Khine Thu Kha, a spokesperson for the Arakan Army, which controls large areas of Rakhine state, said, “All communication is still down, and people are in trouble because all the roofs are gone. We are using military devices to communicate with them.”
The United Nations has not yet been able to assess the damage in Rakhine state due to communication problems. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs stated, “Early reports suggest the damage is extensive.” Benjamin Small, a consultant with the UN Development Programme, expressed concern on Twitter, saying, “With reported 250 kmh winds making Cyclone Mocha one of the strongest in Myanmar on record and the worrying images online, it’s not looking good.”
The road to Sittwe was obstructed by fallen trees, pylons, and power cables, with vehicles carrying rescuers and locals attempting to reach the city and their relatives. An ambulance driver trying to reach Sittwe told AFP, “We drove all the way through the cyclone yesterday and cut trees and pushed away pylons… but then the big trees blocked the road.”
Junta-affiliated media reported that the storm had put hundreds of base stations that connect mobile phones to networks out of action in Rakhine state. A resident of Sittwe, who requested anonymity, told AFP, “There is no phone line, there is no internet… I’m worried for my home and belongings.”
Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing has instructed officials to prepare for Sittwe Airport transport relief, according to state media reports on Monday. However, no details on when relief is expected to arrive have been provided.
In 2008, Cyclone Nargis swept across parts of Myanmar with winds of 240kmh, killing nearly 140,000 people. Since then, Myanmar has faced chaos and resistance against the military on various fronts following a crackdown on protests.
Htaike Htaike Aung, a digital rights activist, expressed concern about the overlap between the internet shutdown areas and the cyclone’s path, stating that it hinders efforts to reach people in need. In the remote and hilly Chin state, which has experienced heavy fighting between the junta and resistance, the areas affected by the storm have been under a communications blackout since the coup, according to the Chin Human Rights Organization. Salai Za Uk Ling, the group’s deputy director, said, “We have not yet been able to establish the extent of the devastation. The storm itself is a trigger for more problems as heavy rains continue and landslides and flooding tend to follow.”
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