As cyclone nears, Bangladesh issues highest danger alert

DHAKA, Bangladesh

With a cyclone bearing down, Bangladesh has issued its top danger alert for the southern maritime port of Cox’s Bazar, also the main tourist hub and home to over 1.2 million Rohingya refugees.

In a special Saturday afternoon weather bulletin, the state weather service said: “The coastal district of Cox’s Bazar and its offshore islands and chars (small islands) will face great danger.”

Facing peripheral effects of the severe cyclone, Mocha, and steep pressure gradient, low-lying areas of the coastal districts of Cox’s Bazar and Chattogram and other offshore islands are likely to be inundated by a wind-driven surge height of 2.4-3.7 meters (8-12 feet) above normal tides, the bulletin warned.

All local fishing boats and fishing trawlers were advised to return to shelter until further notice.

According to the report, the maximum sustained wind speed within 74 kilometers (46 miles) of Mocha’s center is about 170 km per hour (106 mi per hour), rising to 190 kph (118 mph) in gusts.

Shah Amanat International Airport in Bangladesh’s main port city of Chattogram suspended all flights from Saturday morning till Sunday evening while the same notice has been issued for the airport in Cox’s Bazar.

All ferry service in the delta nation of nearly 170 million has also been suspended until further notice.

The office of Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner also issued a warning for Rohingya ahead of the cyclone, with measures such as emergency relocation ready if needed.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said the government has taken all necessary preparations to weather the storm.

Warning of possible electrocution due to water accumulation during the cyclone, she added that electricity and gas services may be disrupted for some time.

Massive evacuation campaign

The government has also started a massive evacuation campaign as Mocha moves closer to the country’s southeastern coast.

The Cox’s Bazar district administration Saturday evacuated over 50,000 people to shelters while many more are on their way to shelters prepared by the government and development partners, according to government officials.

Disaster relief head Enamur Rahman told a news conference that the armed forces are ready to give emergency assistance.

The government prepared over 1,600 shelters in Chattogram and Cox’s Bazar to support the evacuation campaign, which can house over a million people, said the Disaster Management and Relief Ministry.

Meanwhile, panic spread among locals and tourists on the 8 square kilometer (3.1 square miles) tourist hub of Saint Martin’s Island in the Bay of Bengal.

Many of the 11,000 residents have already left the island while several thousand sought help to be relocated.

The UN migration agency IOM in a statement on Saturday said that it has prepared emergency hygiene kits for 17,700 families and nearly 31,500 emergency shelter kits for Rohingya people.

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said that the Rohingya refugees will be evacuated to safer places if the cyclone hits Bangladesh instead of Myanmar or required.

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