May 31, 2017 / 2:09 PM / in 6 months

Nowhere to go for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh after cyclone wrecks camps

COX‘S BAZAR, Bangladesh (Reuters) - Left drenched and near destitute by a cyclone that hit Bangladesh a day earlier, thousands of Rohingya refugees hunkered down in the ruins of their camps on Wednesday, waiting for help after a night in the rain.

Ayesha, 16, a Rohingya refugee girl poses for a photograph in her house which has been destroyed by Cyclone Mora at Balukhali Makeshift Refugee Camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh May 31, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

At least seven people were killed and 50 injured by Cyclone Mora, according to Mohammad Ali Hussain, the chief administrator of Cox’s Bazar district, a sliver of land in southeast Bangladesh bordering Myanmar.

The border area that bore the brunt of the storm is home to refugee camps for Muslim Rohingyas who have fled from their homes in northwest Myanmar to escape communal violence and Myanmar army crackdowns.

”Initial reports suggest damage to shelter in camps sheltering Rohingya refugees, is severe,” the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator for Bangladesh said.

The Bangladeshi government has estimated that in all, there are about 350,000 Rohingyas in Bangladesh following a new influx last October, when the Myanmar army launched an offensive in response to insurgent attacks.

Authorities in Cox’s Bazar and neighboring Chittagong district evacuated 350,000 people from low-lying areas before the storm roared in from the Bay of Bengal on Tuesday.

But most Rohingyas remained in their flimsy shelters in the camps when the storm struck, with priority given to evacuating only the most vulnerable, like heavily pregnant women.

Omar Farukh, a community leader in Kutupalong camp - one of several camps for Rohingyas in Cox’s Bazar - described the misery of those left behind.

“We have passed a difficult time. We had no tin or plastic sheets above our heads and almost all of us passed the night in the rain,” Farukh told Reuters by telephone.

“We tried to save our belongings, whatever we have, with pieces of plastic sheet.”

A senior U.N. official working in Cox’s Bazar said there had been no reports of deaths in the camps, only some injuries.

STILL WAITING

The cyclone formed after monsoon rains triggered floods and landslides in Sri Lanka, off India’s southern tip, killing 202 people in recent days, authorities said, adding 96 people were missing.

An Indian navy boat rescued 33 Bangladeshis at sea off Chittagong, and recovered one body, the Indian mission in Dhaka said. It was not clear if the people had been on a boat that sank or were washed into the sea by a storm surge.

Further south, 10 fishermen were rescued and taken to hospital on the island of Kutubdia, said Sojan Chowdhury, officer-in-charge at the island’s police station, but 134 fishermen and nine fishing boats are still missing, Mostaque Ahmed, head of the Cox’s Bazar Mechanized Fishing Boat Owners Association, told Reuters.

Transport and communications were in chaos in northwest Myanmar, state media there said.

Camps for internally displaced Rohingya in Myanmar suffered extensive damage, and there were pockets of damage in the broader community, but no reports of casualties, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

When the storm hit Bangladesh it brought wind gusting up to 135 kph (85 mph) and heavy rain.

By daybreak on Wednesday the storm had died down with only a steady rain falling. Airports and ports reopened.

Rohingya community leader Farukh said aid agency officials had visited the Kutupalong camp to see what was needed.

A relief worker who had visited the Balukhali camp estimated that one in four huts there had been damaged but there were no serious injuries and people had begun repairs.

Beyond the camps, officials were also assessing the damage elsewhere in Cox’s Bazar. The chief administrator said 17,500 houses had been completely destroyed and 35,000 partially damaged in the district.

“Almost all rickety houses in the district were completely or partially destroyed by the cyclone. Not only Rohingya houses,” Hussain said.

The cyclone lost some of its force as it moved inland and across the eastern border into India.

Strong wind and heavy rain battered houses, brought down electricity lines, and damaged telecommunication towers in India’s Mizoram state, cutting communications and power.

The Meteorological Department said the weather system was very likely to continue to move north-northeast and weaken into a cyclonic storm and later into a depression.

Other northeastern Indian states had received heavy to very heavy rainfall since Tuesday evening.

Additional reporting by Serajul Quadir in DHAKA, Zarir Hussain in GUWAHATI, India, Yi-Mou Lee and Antoni Slodkowski in YANGON and Nurul Islam in COX'S BAZAR; Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Robert Birsel and Ian Geoghegan

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