Cyclone Mocha makes landfall in Myanmar, turns deadly

Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm Mocha made landfall Sunday afternoon, local time, in western Myanmar (also known as Burma) near the border with Bangladesh. Sustained winds prior to landfall were around 155 miles per hour, making Mocha the equivalent of a strong Category 4 hurricane. At least six people are reported to have been killed from the storm so far, according to the BBC.

Bangladesh had ordered the evacuation of nearly 500,000 people ahead of Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm Mocha, which rapidly strengthened from Thursday to Saturday as it churned over the Bay of Bengal.

The evacuations, which started Saturday according to The Associated Press, took place amid warnings from the U.N.'s World Meteorological Organization of a humanitarian crisis at the world's largest refugee camp in the town of Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, near where the cyclone made landfall on Sunday, accompanied by a storm surge, flooding rainfall and damaging winds. As of Saturday evening, local time, about 200,000 refugees were taking shelter in Cox's Bazar. Local reporting states that at least 10,000 homes were damaged in Cox's Bazar as of Sunday.

This AccuWeather RealVue™ Enhanced satellite image shows massive Cyclone Mocha shortly after making landfall on May 14, 2023.

The neighboring low-lying nation of Myanmar is also expected to sustain significant impacts from Mocha, and officials there were also preparing to evacuate residents, according to the AP. Experts are pointing out that the cyclone could be the worst to impact the country in over a decade.

Around 102,000 residents of Rakhine have been evacuated since Wednesday. Across Myanmar's Rakhine state, six million people are in need of humanitarian assistance and 1.2 million are displaced, the U.N. humanitarian office said, due to ongoing civil unrest.


Cyclone Mocha's winds on AccuWeather's Wind Flow map Friday evening local time.

AccuWeather meteorologists pointed out that Mocha was a particularly large cyclone, with an expanse of shower and thunderstorm activity that nearly covered the entire diameter of the Bay of Bengal, about 1,000 miles (1,600 km) across, at one point.

With the storm moving inland, major will not be limited to areas near the coast. Ss Douty pointed out, the threat of life-threatening flash flooding from heavy rain will extend well inland across northern Myanmar, southeast Bangladesh and far eastern India, where the terrain turns mountainous. The ferocious downpours will likely trigger mudslides and landslides, even as the storm continues to rapidly lose wind intensity.

Most areas close to the center of Mocha's track are forecast to receive 5-10 inches (125-255 mm) of rain, with 10-20 inches (255-510 mm) likely in the mountainous terrain of northern Myanmar. The AccuWeather Local StormMax™ for rainfall is 25 inches (635 mm). This total could occur in some highly localized areas.

With warnings that the most dangerous cyclone in years was on the way and slated to impact one of the world's most vulnerable and economically disadvantaged regions, officials were preparing on Friday ahead of the expected impacts.

The U.N. Refugee Agency was preparing for a partial evacuation of a Rohingya camp in Cox's Bazar, where about a million refugees live after fleeing Myanmar in 2017 due to a "military-led crackdown," according to Reuters. The agency was prepping tens of thousands of hot meals and jerrycans, which are used to hold fresh water, Reuters reported.

All 1.2 million refugees in the camp will not be able to be evacuated due to lack of capacity said the State Minister for Disaster Management and Relief, reported local media.

The camp was still reeling after a devastating fire in March that destroyed shelters and critical infrastructure, according to the AP. The International Rescue Committee was also on the ground there ahead of the cyclone, deploying mobile medical tents.

Rohingya refugees try to salvage their belongings after a major fire in their Balukhali camp at Ukhiya in Cox's Bazar district, Bangladesh, Sunday, March 5, 2023. A massive fire raced through a crammed camp of Rohingya refugees in southern Bangladesh, leaving thousands homeless, a fire official and the United Nations said. (AP Photo/Mahmud Hossain Opu)

Mocha, the first named storm of the 2023 northern Indian Ocean tropical season, could end up being the strongest cyclone to impact Myanmar since 2010, when Cyclone Giri came ashore with winds of over 140 mph (225 km/h), according to NOAA.

Cyclones in this part of the world can prove especially deadly. According to the AP, at least 138,000 people died as Cyclone Nargis spread a storm surge inland across Myanmar in May 2008. More recently, Cyclone Mora killed 194 people in 2017, after impacting Sri Lanka and Myanmar, according to the New York Times.

Even in the wake of Mocha, heavy showers and thunderstorms will continue through most of next week. Downpours and lightning from any storms will hamper cleanup and recovery efforts in the days and weeks after.

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