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Food dropped to Myanmar towns; 22,500 killed in storm PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 08 May 2008

REUTERS, Yangon - Military helicopters dropped food and drinking water to the cyclone-stricken people of Myanmar's Irrawaddy delta, where entire villages have been virtually washed away, officials said on Wednesday.

The military government said nearly 22,500 people were killed and 41,000 missing in the most devastating cyclone in Asia since 1991 when a storm killed 143,000 in neighboring Bangladesh.

A doctor in the Irrawaddy delta town of Labutta said villagers had told him thousands died when a series of huge waves slammed into their homes. People clung to trees in a desperate fight for survival.

"All the victims were brought to the town and I asked them, 'How many of you survived?' and they said about 200, 300," Aye Kyu told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

"Then I asked them, 'How many people in your area?' They said about 5,000. The waves were 12, 13, 20 feet high and when the houses were covered in water, they stayed on the roof but the houses were destroyed by strong winds," he said.

In one town alone, Bogalay, 10,000 people were killed, the reclusive military government has said in a town-by-town list of casualties and damage.

As the military's relief operations kicked up a gear, state-run Myanmar TV showed footage of bedraggled survivors lining up on banks of mud to be flown by helicopter out of some of the worst-hit villages.

Disease, hunger and thirst now pose a major threat to hundreds of thousands of survivors of Cyclone Nargis, aid agencies said.

They urged Myanmar's military rulers to open the doors to international humanitarian relief as hundreds of thousands are homeless in the swamplands of the delta southwest of the biggest city Yangon, which was also hard hit by last weekend's storm.

Myanmar TV, the main official source for the number of casualties, on Wednesday re-broadcast Tuesday night's news bulletin. The TV station, monitored outside Myanmar, reported 22,464 killed and 41,054 missing.

HELICOPTERS DROP SUPPLIES

Other official media reported on Wednesday that military helicopters dropped food and bottled water to villagers in the rice-growing Irrawaddy delta. More than half of Myanmar's 53 million people live in five worst-hit states, called divisions.

Aid groups and governments, including U.S. President George W. Bush, asked the military to relax their tight grip to allow humanitarian assistance into Myanmar, which has been ruled by the military for 46 years.

In a rare news conference on Tuesday, Information Minister Kyaw Hsan appealed for help, saying "the government needs the cooperation of the people and well-wishers from home and abroad".

There was some anger on the storm-ravaged streets of Yangon at soaring food prices and long queues for petrol, but the overall mood in the city of five million was of resignation rather than revolution. Last September, the military violently cracked down on Buddhist monk-led demonstrations, killing 31 people and triggering international outrage.

"There won't be demonstrations," one taxi driver said. "People don't want to be shot." Government and private offices were unable to function with power cut off and staff absent. Some office workers just sat there in the darkness.

"We can't do anything without electricity," one of the office workers said. "We sit around in the darkness sharing our sufferings and complaints."

A queue of women and children holding buckets and tubs snaked around a corner in Yangon on Wednesday, past a street market where vegetables sold at three times last week's prices despite government appeals to traders not to profit from the disaster.

The U.N.'s World Food Programme began doling out rice in Yangon. The first batch of more than $10 million of foreign aid arrived from Thailand but lack of equipment slowed distribution.

Two more aid flights are due to land from India on Wednesday. Reflecting the scale of the crisis, the junta said it would postpone by two weeks a constitutional referendum in the worst-hit areas. However, the referendum, part of the army's much-criticized "roadmap to democracy", would proceed as planned elsewhere on Saturday.

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