Burmese Wait For Rescue

Even as Burma's state-run media report that officials are working hard to tackle the havoc wreaked by Tropical Cyclone Nargis, Burmese citizens complain that very little appears to be happening on the ground. They describe innumerable floating corpses, devastated infrastructure, and scarce water, food, and fuel.

house Survivors of the deadly cyclone Nargis gather material to build new houses near the Pyapon river in the southern delta hardest hit by cyclone Nargis on May 11, 2008. The picture was taken in Dedaye, a populated place in Ayeyarwadya region.

The devastating cyclone and tidal surge in Burma may have killed as many as 100,000 people, according to a top diplomat. At least 22,000 people are reported dead, with more than 40,000 missing, according to state-run media. Meanwhile, some local residents say they can see little attempt at rescue operations, describing piles of floating corpses and areas of flattened buildings.

"In the town of Daydayeh, south of Gadon-mani, in places like Gadon-lay and Khatta Island, Nauk-mee, Gawdu, Ashay-bya, and Kaing-thaung, Aye-ya, Gadon, there are corpses floating," said a woman resident of the southwestern coastal region worst hit by the storm. 

"Some floated into the sea. It seems like there's no rescue over there. People are helpless now," said the woman, who was in the former capital Rangoon when the storm struck and who spoke to her family near the city of Bogalay in the Irrawaddy delta.

"In all of those areas, there's no one to rescue them," she said. "There's nothing to eat or drink. There's no rescue."

Even as state-run media report that officials are working hard to assuage the massive damage, Burmese citizens complain that the government failed to adequately warn them of the cyclone or urge appropriate precautions.

Rescue efforts have been hampered by government resistance, amid mounting global pressure on ruling generals to open up to foreign aid, with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon describing the situation as a "critical moment for the people of [Burma]."

"You can't even count the number of bodies of the dead children and adults," the Bogalay woman said. "That's the situation...We are told that rescue people have not reached that area...Beyond that is only the ocean," she added, calling on the authorities to move aid into the region fast.

She said the few survivors in Gadon-mani, about five hours' drive from Bogalay, were sharing meager supplies of dried foods such as rice and oil from the shops.

Some areas were still submerged under about 15 feet (5 m) of water, including an airport and more than 40 villages.

The aftermath in Burma of Cyclone Nargis. Photo: AFP
"That area is totally gone," she said. "They've been totally submerged under the ocean. In Day-dayeh, there are corpses of adults and children in the Day-dayeh river. There's no one to get them and bury them since there are too many of them."

And as thousands of shell-shocked survivors emerge from the flood waters, desperate for food, UN humanitarian chief John Holmes is urging the junta to facilitate the arrival of disaster relief teams and the distribution of badly needed emergency supplies.

The United Nations says its food agency has already been able to distribute some food aid in Rangoon, while aid has also arrived from Thailand and China. But the UN refugee agency said 22 tonnes of supplies were stuck at the border with Thailand, awaiting approval to cross the border.

Meanwhile, one resident of Rangoon said state television footage of military personnel loading trucks with food and water, and clearing damaged areas, was only representative of the main government areas of the city, and that people with close connections to the military junta were receiving preferential deliveries of water.

"They distributed water to houses connected to them. Other places didn't get it. People are in great trouble. There's no water to drink or to wash in," he said. 

Two residents said separately that local residents, including monks, were clearing roads of debris and wreckage following the storm, and were photographed by the military.

A second Rangoon man said government claims it was distributing water weren't telling the whole story.

"A fire truck came to a house in Maha Zaya Road, Bazundaung township, in Rangoon and delivered water. Other people didn't get it. Only that house got it. Everyone saw it, and people were hoping it would distribute water to those in the ward," he said.

"Everyone was puzzled that it gave water to that house only. Even though they are saying that they're distributing water, this is what took place in Maha Zaya Road."

He continued: "We can't buy rice in Rangoon. No one has it. In the streams and canals in those areas, there are corpses of families, corpses of cows and pigs just floating. No one is cleaning them up until now."

According to Shari Villarosa, the U.S. charge d'affaires in Rangoon, there may well be over 100,000 deaths as a result of the cyclone and the humanitarian crisis in its wake.

The woman from Gadon-mani said hospitals were desperately in need of blood for transfusions, and donors were lining up to give it, but hospitals were unable to accept it for lack of cold storage facilities.

"There was one patient hospitalized today. There are people who need blood," she said.

So far, the United States has offered U.S. $3 million in aid, up from an initial contribution of U.S. $250,000, while Britain has offered U.S. $9.9 million and Europe U.S. $3.1 million. China says it has given Burma U.S. $1 million.

State media reported 22,464 people are confirmed dead and 41,054 are missing, while opposition figures say the toll could skyrocket unless aid arrives soon.

Most deaths occurred in lower Burma, in the Irrawaddy delta, Minister for Relief and Resettlement Maung Maung Swe said.

Ninety-five percent of homes in the city of Bogalay were destroyed and most of its 190,000 residents are now homeless, he added. Nearby Labutta and Pyapon were also hit hard.

Burmese state television said the government had decided to postpone from May 10 to May 24 a referendum on a new proposed constitution in the areas hit hardest. But voting will proceed as planned in the rest of the country, to the dismay of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD).

Untold numbers of Burmese still lack drinking water, while the water that is available is selling at grossly inflated prices.

The cost of basic commodities and transport has also surged, in a country already hit hard by skyrocketing food costs.

Vehicles are waiting in long lines for fuel, as well, which has shot up from 5,000 to 15,000 kyat per gallon.

Original reporting by RFA’s Burmese service. Service director: Nancy Shwe. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Translation by Than Than Win. Written and produced in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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