At least 41,000 missing as officials reveal tidal wave destroyed town
MSNBC News Services, May. 6, 2008
An additional 41,000 people were missing as a result of the cyclone, which triggered a massive storm surge that swept inland and left people with nowhere to run, killing at least 10,000 people in one town alone.
(The cyclone, named Nargis, shared many of the same destructive dynamics as Hurricane Katrina.)
"More deaths were caused by the tidal wave than the storm itself," Minister for Relief and Resettlement Maung Maung Swe told a news conference in the devastated former capital, Yangon, where food and water supplies are running low.
"The wave was up to 12 feet high and it swept away and inundated half the houses in low-lying villages," he said, giving the first detailed description of the weekend cyclone. "They did not have anywhere to flee."
It is the worst cyclone to hit Asia since 1991, when 143,000 people died in
Relief efforts for the stricken area, mostly in the low-lying
Information Minister Kyaw Hsan said the military were "doing their best," but analysts said there could be political fallout for military rulers of the former
Giving the first detailed account of the worst cyclone to hit Asia since 1991, when 143,000 people died in
The losses have been much greater than we anticipated, Thai Foreign Minister Noppadol Pattama said after a meeting with
The U.N. World Food Program, which was preparing to fly in food supplies, offered a grim assessment of the destruction: up to a million people possibly homeless, some villages almost totally destroyed and vast rice-growing areas wiped out.
"We hope to fly in more assistance within the next 48 hours," WFP spokesman Paul Risley said in
Images from state television showed large trees and electricity poles sprawled across roads as well as roofless houses ringed by water in the delta, regarded as Myanmar's rice bowl.
The country's ruling military junta, which has spurned the international community for decades, urgently appealed for foreign aid at a meeting Monday among Nyan Win and diplomats in
Reflecting the scale of the disaster, the ruling military junta said it would postpone to May 24 a constitutional referendum in the worst-hit areas of Yangon and the sprawling
However, state TV said the May 10 vote on a charter, part of the armys much-criticized roadmap to democracy, would proceed as planned in the rest of the Southeast Asian country where security forces violently cracked down on protests last year.
A military transport plane was scheduled to land in Yangon later Tuesday with emergency aid from
"Our biggest fear is that the aftermath could be more lethal than the storm itself," said Caryl Stern, who heads the U.N. Children's Fund in the
Other countries, from
The European Commission was providing $3.1 million in humanitarian aid while the president of neighboring
The diplomats said they were told
The appeal for assistance was unusual for
The wife of the
First lady Laura Bush, who has been the administration's chief voice on human rights and political conditions in
"We know already that they are very inept," she said.
There was little sign of official efforts to repair the damage in
"The combination of the cyclone and the referendum within a few days of each other makes an angry population angrier and vulnerable and makes the political situation more volatile" than it has been since last year's massive pro-democracy demonstrations, said Monique Skidmore, a
At least 31 people were killed and thousands more were detained when the military cracked down on peaceful protests in September led by Buddhist monks and democracy advocates.
The government had apparently taken few efforts to prepare for the storm, which came bearing down on the country from the
"The government misled people," said Thin Thin, a grocery story owner in
Rare acceptance of help
The scale of the disaster in the military-ruled southeast Asian nation drew a rare acceptance of outside help from the diplomatically isolated generals, who spurned such approaches in the aftermath of the 2004
Bernard Delpuech, a European Union aid official in Yangon, said the junta had sent three ships carrying food to the delta region, rice bowl for
In its coverage of the disaster, state media have made much of the militarys response, showing footage of soldiers manhandling tree trunks or top generals climbing into helicopters or greeting homeless storm victims in Buddhist temples.
However, there could be big political fallout for a military junta that has prided itself on its ability to cope with any challenge thrown its way, analysts said.
The myth they have projected about being well-prepared has been totally blown away, said political analyst Aung Naing Oo, who fled to
Aid agency World Vision in
This is massive. It is not necessarily quite tsunami level, but in terms of impact of millions displaced, thousands dead, it is just terrible, World Vision
Organizations like ours have been given permission, which is pretty unprecedented, to fly people in. This shows how grave it is in the Burmese governments mind, he said.
Residents of the city of 5 million were queuing up for bottled water and there was still no electricity four days after the vicious Cyclone Nargis struck.
Prices of food, fuel and construction materials have skyrocketed, and most shops have sold out of candles and batteries. An egg costs three times what it did on Friday.
Generators are selling very well under the generals, said one man waiting outside a shop, reflecting some of the resentment on the streets to what many described as a slow warning and response.
Buddhist monks and home-owners hacked at fallen trees with hand saws and axes, trying to clear roads. Soldiers were seen clearing debris and trees only at major intersections, fuelling a sense among residents that the military was not doing enough.
Anger at the authorities is still high because of their bloody crackdown on protests led by Buddhist monks in September.
The regime has lost a golden opportunity to send the soldiers as soon as the storm stopped to win the heart and soul of people, one retired civil servant told a Reuters.
But where are the soldiers and police? They were very quick and aggressive when there were protests in the streets last year, he said.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
Burmese storm toll 'tops 10,000'
BBCNews.com, May 5, 2008
More than 10,000 people were killed in a devastating cyclone that hit western
He said his government was ready to accept international assistance. Aid shipments are now being prepared.
Thousands of survivors of Cyclone Nargis are lacking shelter, drinking water, power and communications, but in many regions help has not yet arrived.
Five regions in which 24 million people live have been declared disaster zones.
Expressing his sadness at the scale of the disaster, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon confirmed that UN officials were meeting Burmese government representatives to discuss how to help.
If the toll is confirmed, Nargis is now the world's deadliest storm since a 1999 cyclone in
Nargis hit the south-east Asian country on Saturday with wind speeds reaching 190km/h (120mph). It brought with it a sea surge that smashed through towns and villages.
Earlier on Monday, the death toll was being put at 351 but the foreign minister later went on TV to announce the figure of at least 10,000.
With information still coming in, he warned the toll could yet rise.
The towns of Bogalay and Laputta, in the region of
None of the casualty figures have been independently confirmed.
The BBC is not permitted to report from
Thousands of buildings have been flattened, power lines downed, trees uprooted, roads blocked and water supplies disrupted.
Aerial footage of the cyclone aftermath
Houses along the coast had been reduced to skeletal structures, 16 villages had been virtually wiped out and no help had reached Laputta, he said.
Pictures on state TV show security services working to clear roads but in
An eyewitness describes the cyclone
"Where are the soldiers and police? They were very quick and aggressive when there were protests in the streets last year," a retired government worker complained to Reuters news agency.
He was referring to protests led by Buddhist monks last year that were quickly put down.
Earlier, a BBC journalist monitoring the situation in
Local people were saying that if the situation continued for another two or three days, it would be really difficult for them, he reported.
Several hundred thousand people are in need of shelter and clean drinking water, UN disaster response official Richard Horsey said.
But damage to roads and communications mean it is impossible to tell the true extent of the situation, he added.
Prices of food, fuel and basic necessities have also risen dramatically.
The UN and international aid agencies are sending assessment teams to the worst-hit areas and shipments are being prepared.
But some people are now wondering if this natural disaster could have serious political repercussions, reports the BBC's Andrew Harding in the Thai capital
Published: 2008/05/05 19:14:58 GMT
© BBC MMVIII
The Associated Press, May. 5, 2008
Tropical Cyclone Nargis hit the Southeast Asian country, also known as
The government had previously put the death toll countrywide at 351 before increasing it Monday to 3,939.
The radio station broadcasting from the country's capital, Naypyitaw, said that 2,879 more people are unaccounted for in a single town, Bogalay, in the country's low-lying Irrawaddy River delta area where the storm wreaked the most havoc.
The situation in the countryside remained unclear because of poor communications and roads left impassable by the storm.
"It's clear that we're dealing with a very serious situation. The full extent of the impact and needs will require an extensive on-the-ground assessment," said Richard Horsey, a spokesman in
"What is clear at this point is that there are several hundred thousands of people in dire need of shelter and clean drinking water," Horsey said.
At a meeting with foreign diplomats and representatives of U.N. and international aid agencies,
Older citizens said they had never seen
With the city's already unstable electricity supply virtually nonfunctional, citizens lined up to buy candles, which doubled in price, and water since lack of electricity-driven pumps left most households dry. Some walked to the city's lakes to wash.
Hotels and richer families were using private generators but only sparingly, given the soaring price of fuel.
Many stayed away from their jobs, either because they could not find transportation or because they had to seek food and shelter for their families.
"Without my daily earning, just survival has become a big problem for us," said Tin Hla, who normally repairs umbrellas at a roadside stand.
With his home destroyed by the storm, Tin Hla said he has had to place his family of five into one of the monasteries that have offered temporary shelter to those left homeless.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
The Associated Press, May. 4, 2008
Five regions of the impoverished country have been declared disaster zones following the storm, which struck early Saturday, the military-run Myaddy television station said.
State-run television reported that 241 people died in the storm, nearly 222 of them from the country's low-lying
"The Irrawaddy delta was hit extremely hard not only because of the wind and rain but because of the storm surge," said Chris Kaye, the U.N.'s acting humanitarian coordinator in
Kaye said he was told earlier in the day by the government that 138 people have died and that thousands of homes were destroyed.
The U.N. planned to send teams Monday to assess the damage, he said. Initial assessment efforts have been hampered by roads clogged with debris and downed phone lines, he said.
"At the moment, we have such poor opportunity for communications that I can't really tell you very much," Kaye said.
Domestic flights have been diverted to the airport in
"It's a bad situation. Almost all the houses are smashed. People are in a terrible situation," said a U.N. official in
"All the roads are blocked. There is no water. There is no electricity," she said.
"Where are all those uniformed people who are always ready to beat civilians?" said one man, who refused to be identified for fear of retribution. "They should come out in full force and help clean up the areas and restore electricity."
The cyclone came at a delicate time for
A military-managed national convention was held intermittently for 14 years to lay down guidelines for the country's new constitution.
The new constitution is supposed to be followed in 2010 by a general election. Both votes are elements of a "roadmap to democracy" drawn up by the junta, which has been in power for two decades.
Critics say the draft constitution is designed to cement military power and have urged citizens to vote no.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.