A powerful cyclone has hit the coastlines of Bangladesh and Myanmar after intensifying into the equivalent of a category-five storm.
Cyclone Mocha brought with it heavy rain and strong winds, leaving residents in low-lying coastal areas fearful they may lose their homes.
More than 1,300 bamboo shelters in Cox’s Bazar, the world’s largest refugee camp, have been destroyed.
Landslides and floods are also hitting the area.
As the storm approached, police patrolled the coastline in the town of Cox’s Bazar carrying loudspeakers, urging people to stay indoors.
The streets emptied as the cyclone intensified – the skies darkened, the winds picked up pace and the rains pounded down.
Mothers with babies, young children, the elderly and the frail packed into any available space in the classrooms, sleeping on desks and sitting under them.
Authorities here say more than 500,000 people were evacuated from their homes in this south-eastern stretch of Bangladesh.
As many arrived at the shelter in rickshaws and on foot, they brought their livestock – cattle, chickens, goats – as well as mats to sleep on.
They had come from fishing and coastal villages, as many as two hours away, making a difficult choice.
“I didn’t want to leave my house,” said Sumi Akter, who lives on a riverbank.
Sumi and others we met here say they have lived through other cyclones in recent years and are resigned to the regular pattern of leaving their homes to the mercy of nature.
Storm surges of up to four metres could swamp villages in low-lying areas, Sumi and others here are fearful their homes may be submerged.
“I wish the homes we lived in were built more strongly,” she said.
Jannat, aged 17, who we had met the day before in the same shelter, said she too was terrified of what state her home, on the riverbank, would be in once she went back.
Last year, another cyclone, Sitrang, destroyed her house, forcing her to spend what little money she had on repairing it.
“How can I live if this keeps happening? I can’t afford to rebuild it – we are very poor,” she said.
As the cyclone hit, they hunkered down in flimsy bamboo shelters with tarpaulin roofs. Some were moved to community shelters within the camps, which offered little more protection.
Authorities told the BBC that more than 1,300 shelters were damaged by the wind, as were 16 mosques and learning centres. Trees had fallen in the camps, while two landslides also caused some damage.
The tarpaulin that covered Mohammed Ayub’s shelter was torn off by the winds. Now he and his family of eight are living in the open, in wet and miserable weather.
Having spent the days before terrified of what Cyclone Mocha could bring, Mohammed was relieved the camps didn’t take a direct hit from the storm.
Mizanur Rahman, from the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner said that as far as he was aware, there were no casualties in the camps as a result of the cyclone.
Forecasters warned Cyclone Mocha could be the most powerful storm seen in Bangladesh in nearly two decades. It also hit neighbouring Myanmar with great force. (BBC)