COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh — A cyclone battered refugee camps in Bangladesh on Tuesday where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims from Burma have taken refuge from violence at home, as authorities moved at least 350,000 Bangladeshis out of harm’s way.
Cyclone Mora struck the island of Saint Martin and Teknaf in the coastal Bangladeshi district of Cox’s Bazar, where officials said some 200,000 people were evacuated to shelters. In Chittagong district, about 150,000 people were evacuated.
The islands are a few miles from the border with Burma, and the refugee camps for Rohingya who have fled their homeland.
Shamsul Alam, a Rohingya community leader, told Reuters that damage in different camps was severe with almost all the 10,000 thatched huts in the Balukhali and Kutupalong camps destroyed.
“Most of the temporary houses in the camps have been flattened,” Alam said.
Omar Farukh, a community leader in Kutupalong camp, said conditions were dire: “Now we’re in the open air.”
Officials in Chittagong reported winds gusting up to 135 kph (85 mph), and said low-lying coastal areas were flooded by a storm surge with waves 2 metres (7 feet) high.
Flights in the area were cancelled.
Last October, following a Burma Army operation launched in response to insurgent attacks, an estimated 74,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh where they joined more than 200,000 who have taken refuge there over the years.
The Bangladeshi government has estimated that in all, there are about 350,000 Rohingya in Bangladesh.
In predominantly Buddhist Burma, where Rohingya are officially denied citizenship and classified as illegal immigrants, about 120,000 of them have been internally displaced by communal violence over recent years and are living in camps.
A UN official working with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh said the damage in the camps could not be assessed while the storm was raging.
“Heavily pregnant women have been evacuated but most people in areas like Balukhali and Kutupalong makeshift settlements have stayed,” said the official, who declined to be identified.
“The winds are strong and people there live in flimsy structures, so we’re worried.”
In Burma, about 300 houses were damaged in Arakan State but the extent was unclear, the government said.
But Bangladeshi weather officials said the cyclone was not as bad as they had feared.
“The severity was less than the apprehension,” Shamsuddin Ahmed, a weather official based in Chittagong said.
The cyclone was expected to weaken in Bangladesh by late morning as it moved inland toward India where authorities have warned of heavy rain in the northeastern states of Tripura, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh.
The cyclone formed after monsoon rains triggered floods and landslides in Sri Lanka, off India’s southern tip, killing at least 180 people in recent days, authorities said.
In the eastern Indian state of Bihar, 24 people have been killed in recent days, either by lightning or in collapsed dwellings.
The southwest monsoon reached the Kerala coast of southwest India on Tuesday.