Myanmar Hit by Tropical Cyclone Nargis; Declares Disaster Zones

May 5, 2008

Five regions in Myanmar [formerly Burma] were declared disaster zones Sunday after Tropical Cyclone Nargis smashed hundreds of houses, knocked out electricity and left at least four people dead. [IJ note: later reports now put the death toll at nearly 4000 with many more persons reported missing. Some areas of the Irriwaddy delta are so devasted that rescue workers have been unable to access them].

The military-run Myaddy television station said Yangon [Rangoon], Irrawaddy, Bago, Karen and Mon states were all heavily damaged by Saturday’s cyclone, which packed winds of up to 190 kilometers per hour (120 mph).

Witnesses in Yangon said the storm blew the roofs off hundreds of houses, damaged hotels, schools and hospitals, and cut electricity to the entire city. The state-owned newspaper New Light of Myanmar reported Sunday that the international airport in Yangon remained shut.

Domestic flights have been diverted to the airport in Mandalay, it said.
Three people were killed Friday when their boat capsized as they crossed a Yangon canal, witnesses said, and a fourth person died Saturday after a tree fell on his house.

Six other boats sank, according to the state-run newspaper Myanma Ahlin, though it was unclear if anyone perished. “It’s a bad situation. Almost all the houses are smashed. People are in a terrible situation,” said a United Nations official in Yangon, who requested anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the media.
“All the roads are blocked. There is no water. There is no electricity,” she said.

Casualties had been expected after Nargis hit Yangoon, Myanmar’s commercial capital, early Saturday.

Neither the U.N. nor the government has provided a death toll or damage assessment, although a more detailed picture is expected to emerge after officials reach remote areas in the coming days.

Yangon residents ventured out Sunday to buy construction materials to repair their homes. Some people expressed anger that the military-led government had done little so far to help with the cleanup.

“Where are all those uniformed people who are always ready to beat civilians?” said one man, who refused to be identified for fear of retribution. “They should come out in full force and help clean up the areas and restore electricity.”

The cyclone hit ahead of a scheduled referendum May 10 on the country’s military-backed draft constitution. The junta says the new constitution will be followed in 2010 by general elections. Both votes are elements of a “roadmap to democracy” drawn up by the junta, which has been in power for two decades.

Critics say the draft constitution is designed to cement military power and have urged citizens to vote no.

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