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Myanmar believes 13,000 dead, missing from cyclone

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSBKK1919620080505?feedType=nl&feedName=ustopnewsevening Myanmar believes 13,000 dead, missing from cyclone Mon May 5,
    Message 1 of 1 , May 5, 2008
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      http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSBKK1919620080505?feedType=nl&feedName=ustopnewsevening

      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
      southeast Asia.

      "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
      tsunami.

      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
      Risley said.

      FOREIGN AID

      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
      standby.

      "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
      told reporters.

      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
      food.

      It said the situation outside Yangon was "critical,
      with shelter and safe water being the principal
      immediate needs."

      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.

      PRICES SOAR

      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
      since Saturday.

      "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
      announcement.

      "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
      Reuters.

      (Additional reporting by Ed Cropley)

      (Writing by Darren Schuettler; Editing by Ed Cropley
      and Jon Boyle)
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