Thousands of people huddled Sunday in monasteries, pagodas and schools, seeking shelter from a powerful storm that hit the coast in Myanmartearing roofs off buildings and killing at least three people.

Mid Cyclone Suede made landfall on Sunday afternoon in Myanmar’s Rakhine state near Sittwe township with wind speeds of up to 209 kilometers (130 miles) per hour, Myanmar’s meteorological department said. The storm earlier passed over Bangladesh’s Saint Martin’s Island, causing damage and injuring people, but turned away from the country’s shores before making landfall.

As night fell, the extent of the damage in Sittwe was not clear. Earlier in the day, strong winds crumpled cell phone towers, cutting off communications in large parts of the area.

Rakhine-based media reported that streets were flooded, trapping people in low-lying areas in their homes as worried relatives outside the township pleaded for rescue.

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Myanmar’s military information office said the storm had damaged houses, electrical transformers, mobile phone towers, boats and lampposts in Sittwe, Kyaukpyu and Gwa townships. It said the storm also tore roofs off sports buildings in the Coco Islands, about 425 kilometers (264 miles) southwest of the country’s largest city, Yangon.

More than 4,000 of Sittwe’s 300,000 residents were evacuated to other towns and more than 20,000 people are taking shelter in sturdy buildings such as monasteries, pagodas and schools located on the city’s highlands, said Tin Nyein Oo, who volunteers at shelters in Sittwe.

Lin Lin, president of a local charity foundation, said there was not enough food in the shelters in Sittwe after more people arrived than expected.

Titon Mitra, UN Development Program representative in Myanmar, tweeted: “Mocha has come ashore. 2 million people at risk. Damage and loss expected to be extensive. We are ready to respond and will need unimpeded access to all affected communities. “

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On Sunday morning, several deaths caused by wind and rain were reported in Myanmar. A rescue team from the country’s eastern Shan state announced on its Facebook social media page that it had found the bodies of a couple who were buried when a landslide triggered by heavy rain hit their house in Tachileik township. Local media reported that a man was crushed to death when a banyan tree fell on him in Pyin Oo Lwin township in the central Mandalay region.

Authorities in the Bangladeshi city of Cox’s Bazar, which was in the storm’s predicted path, earlier said they had evacuated hundreds of thousands of people, but by early afternoon it looked like the storm would mostly miss the country as it turned east, said Azizur Rahman, head of Bangladesh Meteorological Department in Dhaka.

“The risk level has reduced to a great extent in our Bangladesh,” he told reporters.

Strong winds accompanied by rain continued on Saint Martin’s Island in the Bay of Bengal in the afternoon, but feared tidal surges did not materialize as the cyclone began crossing Bangladesh’s coast at low tide, Dhaka-based TV station Jamuna reported.

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About a dozen islanders were injured, while around 300 homes were either destroyed or damaged, Bengali-language daily Prothom Alo reported. A woman was seriously injured, it states.

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UN agencies and aid workers in Bangladesh had prepositioned loads of dry food and dozens of ambulances with mobile medical teams in sprawling refugee camps housing more than 1 million Rohingya fleeing persecution in Myanmar.

In May 2008, Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar with a storm surge that devastated populated areas around the Irrawaddy River Delta. At least 138,000 people died and tens of thousands of homes and other buildings were washed away.

Roxy Mathew Koll, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in the city of Pune, said cyclones in the Bay of Bengal are becoming more intense faster, partly because of climate change.

Climate scientists say cyclones can now retain their energy for many days. In 2020, Cyclone Amphan in eastern India continued to travel overland as a severe cyclone and caused widespread devastation.

“As long as the oceans are warm and the winds are favorable, cyclones will maintain their intensity for a longer period,” Koll said.

Cyclones, giant storms similar to those known as hurricanes or typhoons in other parts of the world, are among the world’s most devastating natural disasters, especially when they strike densely populated coastal areas.

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