Myanmar believes 13,000 dead, missing from cyclone
Mon May 5, 2008 6:42pm EDT
By Aung Hla Tun
YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar's military junta believes
at least 10,000 people died in a cyclone that ripped
through the Irrawaddy delta, triggering a massive
international aid response for the pariah state in
"The basic message was that they believe the
provisional death toll was about 10,000 with 3,000
missing," a Yangon-based diplomat told Reuters in
Bangkok, summarizing a briefing from Foreign Minister
Nyan Win. "It's a very serious toll."
The scale of the disaster from Saturday's devastating
cyclone drew a rare acceptance of outside help from
the diplomatically isolated generals, who spurned such
approaches in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean
The secretive military, which has ruled the former
Burma for 46 years, has moved even further into the
shadows in the last six months due to the widespread
outrage at its bloody crackdown on protests led by
Buddhist monks in September.
The official toll on state media stands at 3,394 dead
and 2,879 missing, although those figures only cover
two of the five declared disaster zones, where U.N.
officials say hundreds of thousands are without
shelter or drinking water.
The casualty count has been rising quickly as
authorities reach hard-hit islands and villages in the
Irrawaddy delta, the former "rice bowl of Asia" which
bore the brunt of Cyclone Nargis's 190 km (120 miles)
per hour winds.
After getting a "careful green light" from the
government, the United Nations said it was pulling out
all the stops to send in emergency aid such as food,
clean water, blankets and plastic sheeting.
"The U.N. will begin preparing assistance now to be
delivered and transported to Myanmar as quickly as
possible," World Food Program (WFP) spokesman Paul
The United States, which has imposed sanctions on the
junta, said it had provided $250,000 in immediate
assistance and a disaster response team was on
"At this moment as I understand it the Burmese
government has not given them permission to go into
the country," State Department spokesman Tom Casey
Two Indian naval ships loaded with food, tents,
blankets, clothing and medicines would sail for Yangon
soon, Indian's Ministry of External Affairs said.
The U.N. office in Yangon said there was an urgent
need for plastic sheeting, water purification tablets,
cooking equipment, mosquito nets, health kits and
It said the situation outside Yangon was "critical,
with shelter and safe water being the principal
The junta leaders, bunkered in their remote new
capital of Naypyidaw, 400 km (240 miles) north of
Yangon, said they would go ahead with a May 10
referendum on a new army-drafted constitution that
critics say will entrench the military.
The last major storm to ravage Asia was Cyclone Sidr
which killed 3,300 people in Bangladesh last November.
In the former capital Yangon, food and fuel prices
soared and aid agencies scrambled to deliver emergency
supplies and assess the damage in the five declared
disaster zones, home to 24 million people.
Clean water was scarce. Most shops had sold out of
candles and batteries and there was no word when power
would be restored.
Long queues formed at the few open petrol (gas)
stations. The price of a gallon of petrol has doubled
on the black market, while egg prices have tripled
"How many people are affected? We know that it's in
the six figures," Richard Horsey, of the U.N. disaster
response office, told Reuters after an emergency aid
meeting in Bangkok on Monday before the state TV
"We know that it's several hundred thousand needing
shelter and clean drinking water, but how many hundred
thousand we just don't know."
In Yangon, many roofs were ripped off even sturdy
buildings, suggesting damage would be severe in the
shanty towns that lie on the outskirts of the city of
5 million people.
At the city's notorious Insein prison, soldiers and
police killed 36 prisoners to quell a riot that
started when inmates were herded into a large hall and
started a fire to try to keep warm, a Thailand-based
human rights group said.
State television showed military and police units on
rescue and cleanup operations in Yangon, but residents
complained the junta's response was weak.
"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 told
(Additional reporting by Ed Cropley)
(Writing by Darren Schuettler; Editing by Ed Cropley
and Jon Boyle)