Trail of destruction on Saint Martin’s island

BN Islamic School & College building made of bamboo, wood planks and corrugated iron sheet is completely destroyed at the onslaught of very severe cyclonic storm Mocha at Saint Martin’s island. The photo is taken from Saint Martin’s Dwip Bazar area on 15 May, 2023Sazid Hossain

The shanties have been completely been razed to the ground while semi pucca houses are destroyed; corrugated iron roofs of some houses collapsed and the coconut trees have snapped. This was a completely unknown Saint Martin’s on the next day of the landfall of very severe cyclonic storm Mocha.

Saint Martin’s is the most damaged area of Bangladesh due to the onslaught of cyclone Mocha. The eye of the storm passed only over the Saint Martin’s in Bangladesh with the wind speed at 147 kph. The remaining part of the storm passed through neighbouring Myanmar.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Sultan Ahmed, 90, from the island said he never saw such a cyclone in the Saint Martin’s. People have survived as there was no tidal surge but the houses of poor people are completely damaged.

The 8 sqkm Saint Martin’s is situated at the northeast of the Bay of Bengal. This is a completely detached island from the mainland of Bangladesh. Around 11,000 people live on the island. Most of the people took shelter in the hotels and resorts on the island when the gust front of the cyclone hit at around 12:00 at noon on Sunday. The wind speed decreased at around 6:00 pm. People found their houses almost completely damaged.

Normal navigation of vessels between Teknaf and Saint Martin’s did not started until Monday. But we started our journey towards the Saint Martin’s on a high speed boat of the Coast Guard at around 3:00 pm. These boats generally take 45 minutes to an hour to reach the island. But it took us two-three hours as the sea was rough.

A girl child holds her pets in front of completely destroyed house at Konapara in Saint Martin’s island on 15 May, 2023
Sazid Hossain

When we reached near jetty of Saint Martin’s after 23 hours of the onslaught of Mocha, the devastated coconut trees seen from afar, indicating the trail of destruction on the island. The coconut trees were severely damaged.

Upon alighting the boat, we started visiting different areas – Dakkhin Para, Kona Para, Uttara Para, Purba Para - of the island. The trail of destruction was same everywhere. Some were standing amid the debris with utter despondency while some were trying to find if anything usable was left and some were trying to repair their homes somehow to spend at night.

We entered the house of Sheikh Abdullah in Uttar Para of the island. The corrugated iron roof of his house was blown away while the furniture was in a bad shape. Abdullah was busy repairing the roof. He said he could not take anything with them as he rushed to the shelter centre with his family when the wind started picking speed at around 11:00 am on Sunday. Everything was damaged as the corrugated iron roof was blown away.

Leaving Sheikh Abdullah’s house, we entered another house near the sea. Several rooms of the house were destroyed. Shafiqa, one of the dwellers of the house, was trying to somewhat repair the house to pass the night. She said the wind speed increased so suddenly that she could not go to the shelter centre. She took shelter with her three children in the building of her neighbour. From there she saw the cyclone blow away the corrugated iron roof of her house. What could do except watch, she said.

Shafiqa stayed the night at the nearby cottage but she was not sure where she would pass Monday night.

Saint Martin’s union parishad chairman Mujibur Rahman said there are around 1,900 houses on the island. Nearly 700 homes are completely destroyed and another 300 were partially damaged. Shops, hotels and resorts have also incurred loss and many trees were uprooted.

Corrugated iron roofs of several restaurants and resorts were blown away but the brick walls were saved. Schools, madrasahs and mosques also have been damaged. Nayan Chandra Burman, headmaster of Creed Primary School, which is completely destroyed, said he was not sure when the school could restarte.

Most of the people of Saint Martin’s live on fishing while some are involved in tourism and small business. Fishing was stopped for several days due to the cyclone while fishing in the sea will be banned for 65 days for breeding season from 20 May. It is not even the tourism season now.

Damaged house at the onslaught of very severe cyclonic storm Mocha. He photo is taken on 14 May, 2023

Bangladesh coast guard’s zonal commander (east zone) Captain Sohel Azam, Cox’s Bazar deputy commissioner Muhammad Shaheen Imran, Cox’s Bazar police super Mahfuzul Islam and Teknaf UNP Md Kamruzzaman went to visit the Saint Martin’s on Monday.

Cox’s Bazar deputy commissioner Muhammad Shaheen Imran told Prothom Alo a list is being made of the house that are completely destroyed. The rehabilitation will begin from Tuesday. Cash assistance will be given to the people whose houses were partially damaged, he added.

Some relief materials also were distributed on behalf of the coast guard and the district administration.

The crisis in Saint Martin’s multifaceted now. There is no solar power now, no fuel oil to operate generators and there is scarcity of potable water too. However, mobile network has been restored.

Local people said there was crisis in drinking water at different parts of the island for the last one month. Tube well water is too brackish. Now the salinity has increased. People in Kona Para were seen thronging with pots and bottles in search of drinking water. They would collect the water from resorts.

It was dusk while we were on the island. This was the second night following the onslaught of cyclone Mocha. The people who have lost their houses are now searching for a place to spend the night.

* The report, originally published in the print edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza