Bangladesh moved to move Rohingya refugees from “risky areas” to community centers and hundreds fled an island on Saturday, officials said, as the most powerful cyclone in nearly two decades pounded the country and neighboring Myanmar.
Cyclone Mocha was packing winds of up to 175 kilometers per hour (109 mph) and meteorological officials in Dhaka classified it as “very severe”, with their Indian counterparts calling it “extremely severe”.
It is expected to land on Sunday morning between Cox’s Bazar, where some one million Rohingya refugees live in camps made largely of temporary shelters, and Sittwe on Myanmar’s western Rakhine coast.
“Cyclone Mocha is the most powerful storm since Cyclone Sidr,” Azizur Rahman, head of Bangladesh’s meteorological department, told AFP.
That cyclone hit the southern coast of Bangladesh in November 2007, killing more than 3,000 people and causing billions of dollars in damage.
Bangladeshi authorities have banned Rohingya from building permanent concrete houses, fearing it could encourage them to settle permanently rather than return to Myanmar, which they fled five years ago.
“We live in houses made of tarpaulin and bamboo,” said Inam Ahmed, a refugee living in the Nayapara camp near the border town of Teknaf.
“We are scared. We don’t know where to find shelter. We are in a panic.”
Forecasters expect the cyclone to bring a deluge of rain, which could trigger landslides. Most of the camps are built on hills and landslides are a regular occurrence in the region.
The storm is also predicted to spawn a storm surge up to four meters (13 ft) high, which could inundate low-lying areas and villages along the river.
Officials said thousands of volunteers were moving Rohingyas from “risky areas” to more concrete structures such as schools.
But Shamsud Douza, Bangladesh’s deputy refugee commissioner, told AFP: “All Rohingya in the camps are at risk.”
Panic has gripped some 8,000 people, with small coral outcrops on Bangladesh’s southernmost island of St Martin – one of the country’s top resort districts – in the storm’s path.
Resident Dilara Begum traveled to Teknaf to wait out the storm.
“Many people are gone too,” she said. “It is an island in the middle of the ocean. We have been living in fear for the past few days.”
Officials said about 1,000 St. Martin islanders did just that, taking 250 boats to Teknaf to try to prevent them from being swept away.
Operations were suspended at Chittagong, the country’s largest port, as well as boat transport and fishing activities.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)