Cyclone Mocha death toll rises to 81 in Myanmar

Cyclone Mocha death toll rises to 81 in Myanmar
Rohingya children stand by destroyed houses at Ohn Taw Chay refugee camp in Sittwe/ AFP


The death toll in cyclone-hit Myanmar rose to at least 81 on Tuesday, according to local leaders, officials and state media, as villagers tried to piece together ruined homes and waited for aid and support.

Mocha made landfall on Sunday with winds of up to 195 kilometres (120 miles) per hour, downing power pylons and smashing wooden fishing boats to splinters.

At least 46 people died in the Rakhine state villages of Bu Ma and nearby Khaung Doke Kar, inhabited by the persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority, local leaders told AFP reporters at the scene.

Thirteen people were killed when a monastery collapsed in a village in Rathedaung township north of Rakhine's capital Sittwe, and a woman died when a building collapsed in a neighbouring village, according to Myanmar state broadcaster MRTV.

"There will be more deaths, as more than a hundred people are missing," said Karlo, the head of Bu Ma village near Sittwe.

Nearby, Aa Bul Hu Son, 66, said prayers at the grave of his daughter, whose body was recovered on Tuesday morning.

"I wasn't in good health before the cyclone, so we were delayed in moving to another place," he told AFP.

"While we were thinking about moving, the waves came immediately and took us."

"I just found her body in the lake in the village and buried her right away. I can't find any words to express my loss."

Other residents walked the seashore searching for family members swept away by a storm surge that accompanied the cyclone, AFP correspondents said.

Nine people died in Dapaing camp for displaced Rohingya near Sittwe, its leader told AFP, adding the camp was cut off and lacked supplies.

"People cannot come to our camp because bridges are broken... we need help," he said.

One person was killed in Ohn Taw Chay village and six in Ohn Taw Gyi, local leaders and officials told AFP.

State media had reported five deaths on Monday, without offering details.

Mocha was the most powerful cyclone to hit the area in more than a decade, churning up villages, uprooting trees and knocking out communications across much of Rakhine state.

China said it was "willing to provide emergency disaster relief assistance", according to a statement on its embassy in Myanmar's Facebook page.


- 'No one has come to ask' -


The United Nations refugee office said it was investigating reports that Rohingya living in displacement camps had been killed in the storm.

It was "working to start rapid needs assessments in hard-hit areas" of Rakhine state, it added.

Widely viewed as interlopers in Myanmar, the Rohingya are denied citizenship and healthcare, and require permission to travel outside their villages in western Rakhine state.

Many others live in camps after being displaced by decades of ethnic conflict in the state.

In neighbouring Bangladesh, officials told AFP that no one had died in the cyclone, which passed close to sprawling refugee camps that house almost one million Rohingya who fled a Myanmar military crackdown in 2017.

"Although the impact of the cyclone could have been much worse, the refugee camps have been severely affected, leaving thousands desperately needing help," the UN said as it made an urgent appeal for aid late Monday.

Cyclones -- the equivalent of hurricanes in the North Atlantic or typhoons in the Northwest Pacific -- are a regular and deadly menace on the coast of the northern Indian Ocean where tens of millions of people live.

Non-profit ClimateAnalytics said rising temperatures may have contributed to Cyclone Mocha's intensity.

"We can see sea surface temperatures in the Bay of Bengal in the last month have been significantly higher than they were even 20 years ago," said the group's Peter Pfleiderer.

"Warmer oceans allow storms to gather power, quickly, and this has devastating consequences for people."

On Tuesday, contact was slowly being restored with Sittwe, which is home to around 150,000 people, AFP reporters said, with roads being cleared and internet connections re-established.

Photos released by state media showed Rakhine-bound aid being loaded onto a ship in the commercial hub Yangon.

Rohingya villagers told AFP they were yet to receive any assistance.

"No government, no organisation has come to our village," said Kyaw Swar Win, 38, from Basara village.

"We haven't eaten for two days... We haven't got anything and all I can say is that no one has even come to ask."