Volunteers help thousands move to safety as cyclone threatens vulnerable communities

Published: 16 May 2013 10:18 CET

By Becky Webb in Myanmar

As tropical cyclone Mahasen continues to make its way over the Bay of Bengal, hundreds of Myanmar Red Cross Society volunteers are working tirelessly to help evacuate people from vulnerable coastal areas in Rakhine State.

Reports suggest the effects of the cyclone will be felt in Myanmar and Bangladesh. “We know from our experience in Cyclone Giri in 2010 that families living in these coastal areas and small islands will bear the brunt of this storm,” said U Maung Maung Khin, Head of Disaster Management from Myanmar Red Cross Society.

Red Cross volunteers have been working closely with local communities to help evacuate families from Minbya, Myebon and Maung Daw townships. In addition, volunteers have also been working in their communities to spread early warning messages. 

“We are using every channel open to us, including radio spots and loudspeakers, to communicate to people on the need to be prepared,” U Maung Maung Khin said.

Red Cross radio broadcasts, providing vital disaster preparedness advice, are being played each day on Rakhine stations, Phinsawadi FM and Mandalay FM. In Cyclone Giri-affected villages in Myebon, the society has installed loudspeakers and distributed radios and these are now being used to share emergency warnings and advice.

 For many people living in the Rakhine town of Sittwe, the situation is further compounded by outbreaks of inter-communal violence which have left thousands without adequate shelter. 35 Red Cross volunteers, deployed from Kayin State, are currently working with families in both camps and communities, to help them prepare. 

“Red Cross teams have been providing relief services to displaced communities in Rakhine for nearly 12 months and we are now working to help them prepare for this impending storm,” said U Khin Maung Hla, Secretary General of Myanmar Red Cross Society said.

Red Cross relief items for over 3,000 families have been stockpiled in key locations including Yangon, Sittwe (Rakhine) and Naypitaw. These include tarpaulins, kitchen sets, blankets and mosquito nets. Trained technical staff and volunteers to support emergency relief and assessment teams are also on standby in Rakhine, Naypyitaw and Yangon.