Cyclone Mocha death toll rises sharply in Myanmar


AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES, Refugee camps housing the displaced Rohingya minority have been destroyed by Cyclone Mocha

May 19: At least 145 people are now known to have been killed in Myanmar (Burma) by a powerful cyclone, the country's military rulers have said.

They say most of the victims of Cyclone Mocha which made landfall last Sunday were from the Rohingya minority.

The junta had earlier put the death toll at 21, but local residents told the BBC that at least 40 had died.

About 800,000 people have been affected by one of the strongest storms to hit the region this century, the UN said.

With winds of up to 209km/h (130mph), Mocha - a category five storm - battered the Rakhine state, in central Myanmar, as well as the regions of Sagaing and Magway.

"Altogether 145 local people were killed during the cyclone," Myanmar's junta said in a statement on Friday, the AFP news agency reported.

According to the statement, among the victims were four soldiers, 24 locals and 117 people from the Rohingya minority.

Before the official statement, there were numerous reports suggesting a much higher death toll than the initial figure of 21, especially in camps where the internally displaced Rohingya live.

Hundreds of homes and shelters have collapsed while communication has been difficult in the country and people are still missing.

In Sittwe, the capital city of Rakhine state, where many people live in low-lying coastal areas, roads have been blocked by uprooted trees and fallen power pylons.

There have also been reports of military attacks on locals following the storm.

Thousands of people fled their homes in the north-western Sagaing region as the army entered villages under cover of the cyclone.

Communities in Sagaing have put up some of the strongest opposition to the military, which seized power in a coup in 2021. The area also houses a large number of anti-government militias, known as the People's Defence Force.

There were no immediate reports of casualties in neighbouring Bangladesh, but the storm crushed thousands of shelters in the world's largest refugee camp at Cox's Bazar. It is home to one million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.

Mocha came 15 years after one of Asia's deadliest cyclones, Nargis, smashed into Myanmar's Irrawaddy Delta and claimed 140,000 lives.

Cyclones are the equivalent of hurricanes in the Atlantic and typhoons in the Pacific. Scientists say these storms have become stronger and more frequent due to climate change.

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