CYCLONES AND FLOODS IN MYANMAR

CYCLONES IN MYANMAR

Natural hazards in Myanmar include destructive earthquakes and cyclones; flooding and landslides common during rainy season (May to September); periodic droughts.

"Cyclone" is the name given to a hurricane-like storm when it occurs in the northern Indian Ocean or the Bay of Bengal. Known as typhoons in much of East Asia and hurricanes in the Western hemisphere, they are large-scale rotating storms that generate high winds and typically form at sea before moving inland.

The cyclone season is during the rain monsoon season from May to October. The typhoon season in the Pacific is from June to October. Although Myanmar sometimes experiences heavy rain this time of the year from these storms it is protected from the high winds by Vietnam (typhoons approach Southeast Asia from the Pacific).

Tropical cyclones in the Bay of Bengal generally head to India and Bangladesh not Myanmar. They only have hit the country on average only once in 40 years. But when they do strike the results can be devastating as was the case in 2008 with Cyclone Nargis, which killed over 120,000 people. Tropical storms routinely lash Rakhine state — a key fishing area — during the monsoon season, which Yangon meteorological services said usually begins in late May in Rakhine.

See Typhoons factsanddetails.com

Cyclone in Burma in 1968 Leaves 837 Dead

A devastating cyclone struck Sittwe (then known as Akyab), the capital of Rakhine State in western Burma, in May 1968 and left at least 837 dead. The Strait Times reported: “Akyab town has been hit by cyclone three times within a year: May and October 1967 and May 10, 1968. The last has been the severest: 95 percent of the town was damaged or destroyed. On the first two occasions, the center of the storm passed Akyab. The damages caused were not so severe. But the last cyclone made a frontal attack. The damage was great. The port area bore the brunt of the frontal attack. Among the first casualties was the Greek ship "Gero Hichalos" which was sunk on May 12. Several vessels in the harbor were blown and washed ashore by the cyclone and the tidal waves which followed in its wake. About 10,000 houses collapsed in the fury of the cyclone. The Strand suffered severe damages. The buildings looked as if they had been bombed. In Rice mills and factories in Akyab were destroyed. Some had their chimneys blown off completely; 30 mills were put out of commission in Akyab Among the worst hit were the schools and hospitals. [Source: Straits Times, May 16, 1968 ///]

“The cyclone wrought havoc in the hinterland areas — Myebonj Pauktaw and Myinbya townships. The tidal waves literally swallowed up whole villages. The refugees from the townships were sheltered temporarily in tents which had been donated by America for relief during the last disaster in 1967. Among the immediate actions taken by the local authorities was the inoculation of the flood victims against cholera and small pox and other epidemics. ///

“With commendable promptitude the Burma Government’s Central Relief Committee undertook immediate relief measures. Helicopters were used to bring relief supplies. The United States’ donation of 25,000 goods were flown in. The refugees eagerly awaited and when they heard the drone of the copter they ran to welcome it. Blankets were among the first relief goods. The Burma Red Cross made an appeal to the International Red Gross for aid. The IRC requested the Red Cross Societies in other countries to respond to Burma's appeal. The family unit tents, large and medium sizes, and tarpaulins donated for the 1967 disaster came in very handy for immediate use after the cyclone for the homeless. The gifts of sulphur drugs donated by ANRO were used to combat disease. The newspapers, both Burmese and English publicized every consignment of U.S. relief goods as they came in. ///

Cyclone Strike Myanmar in May 2004 and Kills 220

In May 2004, at least 220 people were killed and 14,000 were left homeless when a cyclone came ashore from the Bay of Bengal. It was the worst storms to strike the area since 1968 and caused tidal surges and flooding in four towns in southwestern Rakhine State. The IFRC reported: “On May, 19, 2004 a cyclone generated winds of up to 160 kph blowing in from the Bay of Bengal into the area near Myanmar's eastern border with Bangladesh. The cyclone affected areas including the townships of Sittwe, Myae Bon, Pauk Taw, Myauk Oo, Ponnar Kyun, Min Byar, Kyauk Phyu, Ann and numerous islands off the coast. Local authorities reported damage to houses, offices and religious buildings, schools, dams, embankments and prawn breeding ponds, while many motor and rowing craft were sunk. [Source: Relief Web, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), December 31, 2005]

Little information came out of Myanmar immediately after the disaster. About 10 days after the cyclone hit AFP reported: “ Myanmar's media reported for the first time on a cyclone that slammed the country's western coast and, according to U.N. estimates, left at least 140 people dead or missing and 18,000 homeless. "There have been deaths and missing of people," The Mirror newspaper said, without providing details. The storm, the worst to hit the region in nearly four decades, whipped over the Bay of Bengal near Myanmar's border with Bangladesh and struck several coastal townships in Rakhine state, according to official media and relatives of residents there.[Source: AFP, May 29, 2004 <^>]

“One Myanmar security official told AFP there were unconfirmed initial reports that 200 people were missing, mainly fishermen who were caught out at sea. Some 1,000 households in Myebon and Pauktaw townships and 150 in Sittwe township were affected by the storm, The Mirror said, giving no further figures. "The Red Cross, led by the social welfare relief and resettlement ministry under the supervision of the western command commander, rushed to affected villages and are taking relief measures such as providing necessary items, and drinking water, and preventing waterborne diseases," it said. <^>

“A woman in the capital Yangon quoted her mother, who lives in the major port of Sittwe, saying: "We suffered a direct hit. Many, many people were killed, and we've never experienced anything as severe as this before." Her mother said the cyclone was worse than one in 1968, the last major one to hit Myanmar. "I was in Sittwe when the cyclone hit in 1968, and I was told by my mother that this one was worse," the woman told AFP. Her mother said most of the dwellings along the shoreline were destroyed, including a major fishmarket, while Sittwe's harbour for seafaring vessels was damaged, she said. <^>

"More than 140 people are reported dead or missing due to the cyclone," UNICEF said in a statement. Many hospitals and schools were affected and telephone lines were down, while electricity supplies were patchy at best and many affected families could not afford to rebuild their bamboo homes, UNICEF said. Military-run Myanmar is known for under-reporting or downplaying natural disasters or accidents, and only rarely seeks foreign help. At least 84 ships were lost at sea as well as an ocean liner, while on land 2,000 cattle were killed and rice mills were blown down, triggering price rises for rice of up to 70 percent in some areas, the agency said. <^>

Relief Efforts After the May 2004 Cyclone

Newspapers in Myanmar made no mention of Myanmar's surprise plea for international assistance, reported by UNICEF from Geneva. Myanmar's government had asked for 200 tonnes of rice, 4,000 tarpaulin sheets for temporary shelters, medical supplies, rain water collection tanks and 18,000 blankets and sets of clothes, UNICEF said. [Source: AFP, May 29, 2004]

The IFRC reported: “At the request of the Myanmar Red Cross Society (MRCS), an emergency appeal was launched on June 4, 2004. The overall goal of the appeal was to provide immediate assistance to those affected and in the longer term, to reduce risk of disaster and enhance the resilience of some of the most vulnerable people in Myanmar. The appeal budget was revised and doubled on 30 June 2004. This was to cover increased needs based on a joint assessment by MRCS and the Federation, after which the number of affected people significantly increased from initial reports to 25,000 (over 4,600 households). [Source: Relief Web, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), December 31, 2005 *^*]

“The programme undertaken by the Myanmar Red Cross (MRCS) to assist 25,000 people in Rakhine state following a severe cyclone in mid May 2004, has marked a significant milestone in the Society's development. During the four month operation, supported by the International Federation, the MRCS provided and, for the first time, directly distributed essential food and non food items to the most affected areas, fulfilling its role as the country's leading humanitarian organisation. *^*

“The strength of its volunteer network was demonstrated particularly through active participation in rescue and evacuation work in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, while established training regimes proved their worth as the operation matured. Inevitably, there are lessons to be learned, but overall the experience gained will stand the Society in good stead ahead of future emergencies - especially in its professional relationships with national and local authorities. *^*

Cyclone Mala Strikes Myanmar in April 2006

In April 2006, Cyclone Mala battered Myanmar's west coast. The IFRC reported: “After making its way inland from the Bay of Bengal, Cyclone Mala finally hit Myanmar on the western coast on 29 April 2006, packing winds of up to 240 kmph, lashing roofs off buildings and knocking out electricity in affected towns. Eighteen people were reported to have drowned in western Myanmar by storm surge tides and other flooding. Another died and 21 were reported injured in Yangon, where high winds blew the roofs of five factories and hundreds of houses were destroyed. In Hlaingtharya township, 586 houses were damaged while two people were reported dead and 12 were injured. In Gwa township, one dead and four injured were reported. Of the houses affected, 88 were completely destroyed while 1,246 were partially damaged. Authorities estimated that three quarters of the township structures were damaged by the cyclone. Temporary shelters were established in a meditation center, monastery and two schools. [Source: Relief Web, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), May 3, 2006 **]

“In Gwa township, one dead and four injured were reported. Of the houses affected, 88 were completely destroyed while 1,246 were partially damaged. Authorities estimated that three quarters of the township structures were damaged by the cyclone. Temporary shelters were established in a meditation center, monastery and two schools. In Ra Haing Ku Toe village, 132 houses were completely destroyed while 531 were partially destroyed. Red Cross branches at Ayeyrwady division reported 88 houses damaged in Labutta township. Kyangin township (Hinthada district) at the northern tip of Ayeyarwady division was affected by strong winds and torrential rain at afternoon of 29 April. Flash floods caused by heavy rainfall drowned 18 people and left 14 persons missing. Early assessments have identified around 6,000 damaged houses in 24 villages. 351 houses were completely destroyed. **

Immediately after the cyclone hit, Associated Press reported: “A cyclone packing winds up to 240 kilometers per hour (150 miles per hour) battered Myanmar's west coast, causing some damage at beach resorts but resulting in no injuries, officials said. Cyclone Mala passed through Gwa, a resort 190 kilometers (120 miles) northwest of Yangon, an official from the meteorological department said. The cyclone produced massive waves and flooding, knocked down trees and forces some visitors to evacuate to higher ground, the official, who spoke on condition anonymity, said. [Source: AP, April 29, 2006 +=+]

“The storm damaged several houses on nearby Haingyi island and forced South Korea's Daewoo International Corp. to abandon oil platforms in northern Rakhine state, a Daewoo employee said. ``Several houses were destroyed and many houses lost their roofs in the storm, which hit Haingyi island with a wind speed of more than 120 kilometers (75 miles) per hour,'' said a senior meteorological department officer, who also requested anonymity as is customary among Myanmar officials. Haingyi island is 200 kilometers (125 miles) southwest of Yangon, at the tip of the southern delta region. “There were also storm warnings out for coastal areas in southern Bangladesh, where authorities expected it to hit late Saturday. Weather officials in Myanmar said that the storm was expected to intensify in the delta and western Rakhine state Saturday, and that precautionary measures were being taken. +=+

Preparations and Relief Efforts for Cyclone Mala in Myanmar in April 2006

The IFRC reported: “Early preparedness and response measures taken by the government and the Myanmar Red Cross Society (MRCS) ensured minimal damages and loss of life. On 28 April, township authorities issued two warnings, and evacuations from high-risk areas took place the same day. The minister of transport and deputy minister of social welfare attended a ceremony where clothing, blankets and cash amounting to MMK 200,000 (approximately USD 160 or CHF 200) were handed over to Gwa township. Disaster response systems already in place demonstrated their effectiveness during the disaster as government relief personnel were at the villages affected on the very onset of the cyclone, carrying out relief and health care services. [Source: Relief Web, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), May 3, 2006 **]

“MRCS was involved at the beginning, alerting state Red Cross committees and participation in local response committee meetings before cyclone Mala hit. Disaster preparedness/response teams from the headquarters established communication with states and divisions and mobilized boats for transportation to areas otherwise inaccessible by road. By 29 April, 30 volunteer groups were on standy at all townships. ICRC was also on stand by for possible logistic support. MRCS Yangon division responded to storm damages at Hlaingtharya township where over 400 houses were damaged or destroyed during a thunderstorm on 28 April. **

“Telecommunications remained the biggest challenge throughout the entire operation as MRCS had not received any feedback for a radio application made in relation to the tsunami operation in early 2005. MRCS and the Federation delegation mapped the situation with local branches and tourist resorts at Southern Rakhine and Ayeyarwady coast. A disaster assessment and response (DART) team surveyed the forecasted impact area from Gwa to Thandwe on 30 April. A second assessment team was sent to Pyay, capital of West Bago division, on the same day, where communication lines had been lost during the previous night. MRCS Labutta township distributed essential non-food items to all 164 households on 1 May. Replenishment of preparedness stock will be needed. **

Cyclone Akash

In May 2007, Cyclone Akash grazed Myanmar before striking Bangladesh with its strongest force. Earthweek reported: “A long stretch of the Bay of Bengal coast was raked by high winds and storm-surge tides as Cyclone Akash moved ashore. The storm initially struck western Myanmar, where several buildings were either damaged or destroyed by hurricane-force winds. Akash later left three fishermen dead and 50 other people missing along the Bangladesh coast. Remnants of the storm then caused flash flooding across a wide area of northern Myanmar and northern Thailand. [Source: Earthweek, May 18, 2007]

The storm initially brought heavy rainfall to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Upon striking Bangladesh, Cyclonic Storm Akash produced a moderate storm tide, along with strong winds and heavy rains. The storm left dozens of boats missing, with three fisherman confirmed killed and another 50 missing. Near the coast, thousands of houses were damaged from the flooding caused by the storm. In Burma, its storm tide caused some coastal flooding. In all, 14 people were killed and damages amounted to US$982 million. [Source: Wikipedia]

According to Bangladesh Meteorology Department reports on the day of the storm: “The Cyclonic Storm "AKASH" has crossed Chittagong-Cox's Bazar coast this morning (at 09 a.m, 15 May 2007) without causing any significant damages to lives and properties. All three maritime ports of Chittagong and Cox'sbazar and Mongla have been advised to hoisted local cautionary signal number three. As the sea will be rough and high all along the coastal belt the fishermen have been warned not to venture out till mid-night today and then afterwards may proceed with caution. There is no possibility of causing damages by the gradually weakening cyclonic storm but under its influence rain/thundershowers at most places are likely to continue next few hours. [Source: NIRAPAD, May 15, 2007 ~^~]

“By contacting to all our member organizations working along and off the coastal belt and to Cyclone Preparedness Program (CPP), we become informed that this cyclone did not cause so far any significant damage and loss to lives and properties except inundating few low-lying areas. Our member Codec informed us that there is no rain in Chittagong and the sky becomes clear gradually. They did not receive any damage/causality news from their field offices at Barguna, Patuakhali, Laxmipur, Feni, Noakhali and Chittagong. We received the same information from Resource Integration Center at Cox'sbazar and Gono Unnayan Prochesta at Banshkhali. ~^~

“Why the name Akash to a cyclone? Explaining (to media) why the cyclone was named Akash, Alipore of India weather office director G C Debnath said: "This cyclone is special because it is the first this season (pre-monsoon). The names are given following a nomenclature prepared by the World Meteorological Organisation." Thus, while Monday's night's cyclone is being called Akash, the next one will be called Bijli, then Jal, Lehar, Megh, Sagar, Vayu and so on. ~^~

Cyclone Mahasen Skirts Myanmar, Damage Less Than Feared

In May 2013, the Wall Street Journal reported: “Cyclone Mahasan weakened into a tropical storm as it made landfall, but it still brought tidal surges, heavy rain and strong winds, causing considerable damage in the fishing villages of Bangladesh and, to a lesser extent, Myanmar. Officials in Myanmar said no deaths had been reported. But in Bangladesh, 14 people died from falling trees and collapsing walls, the Ministry of Food and Disaster Management said. [Source: Wall Street Journal, May 16, 2013]

The storm caused less damage to the two Bay of Bengal nations than had been feared, although the death toll is expected to rise as communication is restored. Myanmar's disaster planning also has gotten better in recent years, and Bangladesh has dramatically improved its system since the deadly Cyclone Bhola killed up to a half million people in 1970.

Myanmar's military and security forces started evacuation on Monday as part of the government's plan to move close to 160,000 people out of harm's way. But authorities had trouble getting the people—mostly Muslim Rohingyas—to move to safer places. Tens of thousands of Rohingyas have been living in camps in Myanmar's Rakhine state, after having been displaced during intercommunal violence in 2012.

Cyclone Mahasen weakened into a tropical storm and then dissipated. About 78,000 internally displaced people had been moved in Myanmar, the United Nation's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, said late Thursday, citing government estimates. "We've certainly had a problem with getting people to move … The internally displaced people in Myanmar have been very fearful to travel with military. They perhaps don't know what is happening and fear violence where they are moved," OCHA spokeswoman Kirsten Mildren said from Bangkok.

Lt. Col. Zahid Hasan, commanding officer of Border Guards' 42 Battalion in Teknaf, on Bangladesh's southeastern tip, said 21 bodies were recovered Thursday afternoon from the sea, apparently from an accident earlier in the week when several boats carrying more than 100 Rohingyas trying to flee the cyclone had capsized. "We are assuming these are the people from the boat from Pauktaw, Rakhine that capsized on Monday night because none of the locals here have reported anyone missing," he said.

Myanmar’s Efforts to Evacuate Rohingya Camps Before Cyclone Mahasen

Jared Ferrie of Reuters wrote: “Authorities in Myanmar struggled to evacuate tens of thousands of people, most of them Rohingya Muslims, before a cyclone reaches camps in low-lying regions that have been their home since ethnic and religious unrest last year. The Myanmar government had planned to move 38,000 internally displaced people, most of them Rohingya Muslims, but many have refused to relocate from camps in Rakhine State in the west of the country, afraid of the authorities' intentions. At least 192 people were killed in June and October last year in violence between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya, who are denied citizenship by the government in Myanmar and considered by many Buddhists to be immigrants from Bangladesh. [Source: Jared Ferrie, Reuters, May 15, 2013]

At a camp near the sea by Hmanzi Junction on the outskirts of Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, several people told Reuters they would rather perish in the storm than evacuate. "We arrived here last year because of the clashes between Rakhine and Muslims. I lost everything. Both my mother and my two young daughters died," said Hla Maung, 38, a Muslim. "If the cyclone hits here, I will pray to Allah. Everyone here wants to die in the storm because we lost everything last year."

The evacuations in Myanmar are seen as a test of the government's willingness to help the Rohingya, an impoverished, long-persecuted people who bore the brunt of sectarian violence in Rakhine State and suffered before that during half a century of military rule. Hla Maung and others had rejected efforts by the U.N. refugee agency to move them to a nearby army barracks. They were told early they could take shelter in a school, but many still refused to go.

Most of the people in the camp had lived in Thandawli, a village in the Sittwe region destroyed in last June's violence. About 140,000 people were displaced in June and a second wave of violence in October Even before the storm developed, the United Nations has said about 69,000, most of them Rohingya Muslims, were living in Rakhine State in accommodation at risk of flooding and other damage during the rainy season, which starts this month.

It warned last week there could be a humanitarian catastrophe if people were not evacuated. One of a small convoy of boats carrying Rohingya Muslims capsized at around midnight a few nights before after hitting rocks off Pauktaw in Rakhine State. Official media said 42 people had been rescued but 58 were missing. Some reports have said eight bodies were found.

Speaking at a coordination meeting for Cyclone Mahasen in Yangon on Tuesday, President Thein Sein urged officials to use the experience gained in 2008 after Cyclone Nargis killed up to 140,000 people in the Irrawaddy Delta, south of the main city, Yangon. He stressed the need to treat everyone equally. "Security, safety, food and health care are crucial. And it's very important to carry out relief work on humanitarian grounds for all regardless of race and religion," official papers quoted him as saying.

Floods in Myanmar

Flooding is common during the monsoon season that typically starts in late May.

In 2003, the worst flooding in 30 years affected up to a million acres (404,700 hectares) of land throughout Myanmar and left thousands homeless, but the disaster was largely unreported until after relief measures had been launched.

In June 2010, Associated Press reported: “Floods and landslides have killed at least 46 people in northwest Myanmar and rescue workers are evacuating residents affected by the incessant rains, official media said. The deaths occurred in northern Rakhine state bordering Bangladesh, which had been battered by heavy rain for two days. Local authorities were continuing to aid victims and trying to open a key road damaged by the torrents, the Myanma Ahlin newspaper said. Bridges also were washed out in the region. State television reported that 28 people were killed when houses built on mountains collapsed due to landslides in Buthidaung, 360 miles (576 kilometers) northwest of Yangon and 18 others died in Maundaw, south of Buthidaung. [Source: AP, June 17 2010]

Floods in Myanmar in 2011

Floods in October 2011 in Myanmar killed more than 100 people and displaced thousands. News agencies and Asia News reported: “More than 100 people have been killed in flash floods in central Burma after heavy storms last week. Monsoon rains caused landslides with river breaking their banks. Pakokku, a town in Magwe Division and some 30 kilometers north of Pagan, was hardest hit. "So far, 35 dead bodies were found out of 106 missing people. The other 71 people are also believed to have been killed in the floods,” a government official told AFP. "We haven't found their bodies yet and are still searching." [Source: News agencies and Asia News, October 24, 2011\\\]

“In some parts of central Myanmar, roads, bridges and buildings were damaged by strong winds and heavy rains. More than 2,000 houses were also swept away by the mass of water that hit four towns in the Magwe region, and about 6,000 homes are still flooded. According to preliminary estimates, damage from the disaster is around US$ 1.64 million. More than 1,500 people have sought refuge in two shelters in the flood-hit town of Pakokku. One Seikphyu resident told DVB that even two-storey buildings were inundated to the roof. Some residents in the affected areas have complained that they received little warning about the impending disaster. \\\

According to the United Nations, more than 700 people were killed across Southeast Asia. Monsoon rains were particularly intense in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and the Philippines, affecting some 8 million residents. \\\

Reuters reported: “At least 100 bodies had been found in the low-lying parts of central Myanmar along the Irrawaddy River, with at least 100 more missing after floods and torrential rains, according to a reliable source in Pakokku, about 450 kilometers (280 miles) north of the biggest city, Yangon. Residents contacted by Reuters in Monywa and Kyaukse towns said there was damage to property and crops, but could not confirm casualties. [Source: Panarat Thepgumpanat and Jutarat Skulpichetrat, Reuters, October 21, 2011]

Floods in Myanmar in 2012

Heavy monsoon rains in August 2012 in Myanmar forced tens of thousands of people to seek shelter in emergency camps and submerged vast swathes of cropland. AFP reported: “More than 68,000 people are staying in 308 camps around the country, according to the Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Ministry. "We have been giving necessary assistance such as rice and household kits to the flood victims," the ministry's director general Soe Aung told AFP. "Some people went back to their homes as the water level subsided." [Source: AFP, August 27, 2012 ==]

“The worst-affected southwestern delta region -- which was devastated by a cyclone in 2008 that left 138,000 people dead or missing -- has been lashed by the heaviest rains in eight years, according to the authorities. No fatalities have been reported in the delta but two men, aged 25 and 35, died in flooding in Lashio in eastern Shan State earlier this month, according to the authorities. More than 136,000 acres (54,400 hectares) of farmland have been inundated by the floods, which began in late July in Shan and spread to other parts of the country, Soe Aung said.” ==

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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