Burma cyclone: 15,000 dead, 30,000 missing
Wednesday, 07 May 2008


A monk negotiates the devastation: aid agencies said they are being given unprecedented access after the disaster At least 15,000 people have been killed and up to 30,000 are missing after the catastrophic cyclone that struck Burma at the weekend, with officials warning that the toll was likely to rise.

Nyan Win, the Burmese Foreign Minister said on state television that 10,000 people had died in just one town, Bogalay, as he gave the first detailed account of the worst cyclone to hit Asia since 1991, when 143,000 people died in Bangladesh.

Thailand’s foreign minister, Noppadol Pattama, said after a meeting with Burma’s ambassador to Bangkok that he’d been told 30,000 people were missing following Friday’s devastating storm. “The losses have been much greater than we anticipated,” Mr Noppadol said.

Cyclone Nargis ripped across Burma’s agricultural heartland on Saturday at 120mph (193km/h), destroying buildings and fields, toppling trees and washing away roads in the city of Rangoon and the Irrawaddy delta.

The total left homeless is in the several hundred thousands, United Nations aid officials say, and could run into the millions. The devastation has forced Burma’s isolated and xenophobic generals to appeal for international help and UN agencies are preparing to fly in emergency food, shelter and medical supplies to prevent epidemics and starvation inflicting a second disaster. Despite a long-standing suspicion of foreign aid agencies, Mr Win indicated that his Government would accept aid.

“We will welcome help . . . from other countries because our people are in difficulty,” he said. However, the US State Department reported that an offer of $250,000 (£125,000) in help and a disaster assistance team had been rejected, suggesting that the junta might be selective about what it accepts.

Laura Bush, the US First Lady, urged Burma to stop hindering the international relief effort. “The United States stands prepared to provide an assistance team and much-needed supplies to Burma, as soon as the Burmese Government accepts our offer,” she said. The US and EU states have imposed economic sanctions on Burma’s repressive junta. In the past,

humanitarian aid programmes have also been limited because of fears that they would benefit the generals. Bernard Delpuech, a European Union aid official in Rangoon, said the junta had sent three ships carrying food to the delta region, which is the rice production centre Burma’s 53 million people.

Nearly half the population live in the five disaster-hit states. Aid agency World Vision in Australia said it had been granted special visas to send in personnel to back up 600 staff in the impoverished Southeast Asian country. “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 Australia head Tim Costello said.

“Organisations like ours have been given permission, which is pretty unprecedented, to fly people in. This shows how grave it is in the Burmese government’s mind,” he said. The town-by-town list of dead and missing announced by Nyan Win showed 14,859 deaths in the Irrawaddy division and 59 in Rangoon, the biggest city of five million and the former capital.

The hardest-hit area was the Irrawaddy region where about 10,000 people died in Bogalay, 90 kms (55 miles) southwest of Yangon. In Rangoon people were queueing up for bottled water and there was still no electricity four days after the vicious Cyclone Nargis struck.

“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.

Very few soldiers were seen clearing debris and trees, except at major intersections, residents in the former capital said. Monks and residents, using what tools they had, cut trees.

The junta has moved even further into the shadows in the last six months due to widespread outrage at its bloody crackdown on protests led by Buddhist monks in September.

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