The India Meteorological Department forecast that Cyclone Mocha would have sustained winds of about 120 mph, down slightly from 150 mph earlier in the day, as it veered toward the eastern flank of the Indian subcontinent. That would make it one of the strongest storms to strike the Bay of Bengal in recent years.
The cyclone was “very likely to move north-northeastwards,” crossing into southeast Bangladesh and northern Myanmar, close to Sittwe in Rakhine state, “within a few hours,” the department said.
Titon Mitra, a representative of the U.N. Development Program in Myanmar, tweeted Sunday that 2 million people were “at risk” because of the storm. “Damage and losses are expected to be extensive,” he added.
Some 300,000 people in Bangladesh had been evacuated ahead of the storm as of noon on Sunday, local authorities said. The figure excludes Rohingya refugees, who have been moved to safer places within camps.
Myanmar’s junta government said that more than 78,000 people had been moved in Rakhine state and nearby areas as of Saturday. (A major militia in Rakhine, where there has been a long-standing insurgency, told local reporters that about 100,000 residents were moved in recent days.)
Aid agencies working in the southeastern Bangladeshi city of Cox’s Bazar, home to Kutupalong, the world’s largest refugee encampment, prepared shelter materials and health-care supplies and warned of devastating consequences for refugees living in flimsy bamboo homes.
Shortly after noon, the weather had turned choppy in Teknaf, outside Cox’s Bazar. Wind and rain gathered speed as trees convulsed.
“Trees and tin roofs of the houses are being blown away. But there is no tidal surge yet,” Nurul Haque, who lives on the nearby St. Martin’s Island, said by phone. The island of some 10,000 people was forecast to be in the cyclone’s path, and around 1 p.m. local time, it had already recorded wind speeds of over 60 mph — suggesting that “the eye was close,” weatherman Newaz said.
As the cyclone continued “to move inland,” the Myanmar office of the U.N. humanitarian agency said that wind was “uprooting trees” and causing damage in some areas.
The U.N. refugee agency has stockpiled supplies of dry food, and relief agencies can provide 50,000 hot meals daily if needed, it said in a statement. The World Health Organization has ambulances and mobile medical teams on standby in the area.
In Myanmar, the World Food Program has prepared food supplies to cover the needs of more than 400,000 people in Rakhine state and neighboring areas for a month, the agency said in a statement.
The areas impacted are “burdened by conflict, poverty, and weak community resilience,” said Sheela Matthew, WFP’s deputy director for Myanmar.
“They simply cannot afford another disaster,” she added.
Cyclone Nargis, which struck Myanmar in 2008, killed nearly 85,000 people and displaced many more.
Experts say climate change is probably making tropical cyclones more intense globally.
Azad Majumder in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Mohammad Faruque in Teknaf, Bangladesh, and Cape Diamond in Yangon, Myanmar, contributed to this report.