Cyclone Mocha Wreaks Havoc in Myanmar’s Northern Rakhine

By The Irrawaddy 14 May 2023

Extremely powerful Cyclone Mocha made landfall in northern Rakhine State near the Bangladeshi border on Sunday, bringing torrential rains and gusts of wind strong enough to fell telecommunications towers, uproot trees and cause flash floods, among other forms of havoc.

The cyclone with a maximum wind speed of 259 km per hour, equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane, hit the state capital Sittwe on Myanmar’s western coast on Sunday morning. It is the strongest cyclone to hit Myanmar in more than a decade.

Residents reported heavy rains and strong winds that uprooted trees and blew off roofs.

“There are howling winds and pounding rains. I feel everything around me is trembling and rumbling,” a Sittwe resident told The Irrawaddy.

Before the internet connection in the area was cut off by the storm, some residents took to Facebook, Myanmar’s favorite social media, to share pictures of uprooted big trees, blown away roofs, and deserted and rain-drenched thoroughfares in Sittwe. Reports of similar havoc wreaked by the storm came in from other towns like Gwa and Kyaukphyu.

Residents also reported flash floods caused by storm surges in their neighborhoods. Sittwe is open to the Bay of Bengal.

Mobile phone connection was lost in the northern part of the state in the afternoon after telecommunications masts were crippled by strong winds, leaving Sittwe, Kyauktaw, Maungdaw, Minbya and other areas experiencing communication blackouts. MEGA Net, a fiber internet service provider in Rakhine, announced on its Facebook page that its service has been severed due to the storm.

As of Sunday afternoon, the full extent of the devastation caused by the storm in the state capital and nearby areas was not yet clear. The eye of the storm crossed Sittwe and nearby areas on Sunday afternoon and meteorologists warned of possible further severe weather, which normally follows the crossing of the eye. Myanmar’s Meteorology and Hydrology Department said the cyclone was moving into the country’s north and northeast, where it threatens to do more damage in neighboring Chin State and Magwe and Sagaging regions—strongholds of Myanmar’s anti-regime resistance that have already been devastated by the scorched earth policy implemented by the Myanmar military regime since the 2021 coup. The Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System estimated the storm could affect up to 2 million people.

When Mocha made landfall on Sunday, the state capital Sittwe was nearly deserted as more than half of  the town’s over 310,000 residents had been evacuated to nearby towns on higher ground, according to the town’s General Administration Department.

In Teknaf in Bangladesh, high winds uprooted trees, brought traffic to a halt and sent residents running for cover as Mocha, packing winds of up to 195 km (120 miles) per hour, hit the coast between Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, home to nearly one million Rohingya refugees, and Myanmar’s Sittwe, according to AFP.

Bangladeshi authorities earlier moved 190,000 people in Cox’s Bazar and nearly 100,000 in Chittagong to safety, the news agency reported, citing divisional commissioner Aminur Rahman.

Cyclone Mocha is the strongest storm to hit Myanmar since 2010’s Cyclone Giri, which had sustained winds of 230 km per hour and killed at least 45 people.

In 2008, more than 135,000 people were killed when Cyclone Nargis hit the country’s Irrawaddy Delta.