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U.N. says 220,000 reported missing in Myanmar cyclone PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 12 May 2008

Damage caused by Cyclone Nargis in LatPurTar is seen in this recently taken photograph released by the Mandalay Gazette on May 11, 2008. Boat sinks with first Red Cross aid for Myanmar

REUTERS, BANGKOK - The number of people reported missing in the Myanmar cyclone was about 220,000, the United Nations humanitarian agency said on Sunday, warning of environmental damage, violence and mass migration.

It said assessments of 55 townships in the Irrawaddy delta and other disaster areas found up to 102,000 people could have been killed in Cyclone Nargis, which struck flimsy dwellings with fierce winds and waves on the night of May 2.

"Based on these assessments, the U.N. estimates that 1,215,885 to 1,919,485 million people have been affected by the cyclone, the number of deaths could range from 63,290 to 101,682, and 220,000 people are reported to be missing," the report by the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

Myanmar state-run TV reported on Sunday night that the death toll had risen to more than 28,458 and 33,416 people were missing.

The cyclone had "likely resulted in acute environmental issues that could pose an immediate risk to human life and health", the U.N. report said.

It said migration and violence were also emerging as problems in the poor southeast Asian country, where a succession of military juntas have ruled with an iron grip for 46 years.

"Given the gravity of the situation including the lack of food and water, some partners have reported fears for security, and violent behaviour in the most severely afflicted areas," the report said.

"Some assessments have suggested that people are coping by migrating outwards from the most affected to less affected areas in search of the basic necessities."

The U.N. agency also said few visas have been issued for disaster relief workers to enter the country.

The reclusive military government, while accepting aid from all over the world, has been reluctant to allow in western aid experts, many of whom have been waiting in Bangkok and other cities for days.

Meanwhile, a cargo boat carrying the first Red Cross aid to survivors of Cyclone Nargis sank on Sunday, the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) said, dealing a blow to an already stumbling relief effort.

The boat carrying relief supplies for more than 1,000 people was believed to have hit a submerged tree trunk in the Irrawaddy Delta and started taking on water, an IFRC official in Bangkok, Andy McElroy said.

The accident highlighted the enormous logistical difficulties of delivering aid to the estimated 1.5 million cyclone survivors in need of food, shelter and medicine, with roads washed away and much of the delta turned to swampland.

The reclusive military government has thrown up other obstacles on top of that, saying it will accept foreign aid but not the foreign logistics teams needed to transport the aid into the inundated delta.

The crew steered the stricken Red Cross boat to an island but it sank rapidly, McElroy said. All crew members and the four Myanmar Red Cross personnel on board, two men and two women, scrambled to safety.

"This is a great loss for the Myanmar Red Cross and for the people who need aid so urgently", Aung Kyaw Htut, the Myanmar Red Cross aid distribution team leader, said in a statement. "This would have been our very first river shipment and it will delay aid for a further day."

The double-decker river boat was travelling from Yangon to Bogalay, some 12 hours sailing time, when it sank near Myinka Gone village. It was carrying rice, drinking water, water purification tablets, jerry cans, stretchers, clothes, family utensil kits, soap, rubber gloves and surgical masks.

The boat sank early in the morning near Bogalay, a town extensively damaged by the cyclone and where 260,000 people out of a total population of 350,000 are thought to have been affected. Almost 10,000 are reported dead or missing in Bogalay.

The government's official death toll stands at 23,350 dead and 37,019 missing from the May 2 cyclone, though disaster experts put the toll at 100,000 or more.

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