Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Burma's Death Toll Reaches 22,000

The very strong cyclone that hit into Burma's low-lying Irrawaddy delta triggered a massive wave killed at least 22,500 people and left 41,000 others missing, officials said today. Cyclone Nargis tore through the country’s heartland and largest city, Yangon, early Saturday. It has a speed of 120 mph winds battering the Southeast Asian country, also known as Burma.

The first assistance from overseas arrived Tuesday from neighboring Thailand. Relief efforts have been difficult, in large part because the storm destroyed roads and communications outlets.

Nyan Win told Yangon-based diplomats, in a private meeting, that he expected the worst in the storm-ravaged Irrawaddy delta, according to Asian diplomats speaking on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed.

Watch this special report on Burma and Cyclone Nargis by BBC.

The vicious storm caused blackouts in the country’s largest city, Yangon, and left hundreds of thousands of people homeless. Rural buildings were swept away because most are built with thatch, bamboo and other flimsy materials. Many storm victims sought refuge at Buddhist monasteries while others lined up yesterday to buy candles, which had doubled in price, and water since the lack of electricity-driven pumps had left most households dry.

“The government misled people. They could have warned us about the severity of the coming cyclone so we could be better prepared,” said Thin Thin, a grocery store owner.

The radio station broadcasting from the country’s capital, Naypyitaw, said 3,939 people had been killed. Another 2,879 people were unaccounted for in a single town, Bogalay, in the country’s low-lying Irrawaddy River delta area.

“This is probably the most devastating natural disaster in Southeast Asia since the tsunami,” said Laura Blank, spokeswoman for World Vision. The 2004 tsunami killed around 230,000 people in 12 Indian Ocean nations. She also state that World Vision teams are assessing the damage and stressed the most important need was clean water. Myanmar’s ruling junta, which has spurned the international community for decades, appealed for aid on Monday.