Burma: What Witnesses are Saying

Witnesses in Burma have been contacting RFA Burmese service staff with heartbreaking accounts of devastation, death, and a major humanitarian crisis in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Nargis. Read their first-hand accounts of the storm and its aftermath.

letter U Sein Kyaing, from Bogalay, whose wife and three children died in the tragedy, writes to RFA: "We are very angry when we heard that there are disputes and arguments to provide emergency rescue. Come first and solve the disputes later.

These accounts do not necessarily reflect the views of Radio Free Asia, nor can all of them be independently confirmed.

From a woman with parents in Rangoon, sent May 8, 2008 
“…My parents are in Yangon [Rangoon] and I tried to contact them but did not get contact until yesterday morning. I was worried and called the Burmese embassy and the person who answered the call said he can check my parents’ names on the list of the victims. I sent him [an] e-mail and did not get it back soon. So I sent another e-mail and said I already spoke with my mom. She said she and my dad are fine.”

“My mom said it started around 11 p.m. and then it got worse and worse. It stopped around 9 a.m. … And she went downstairs where we have another apartment above five houses away. She said the leaves were flying and came into our apartment because the doors are with open crossbars. The roofs were flying like crazy and all the signs and windows were off the hooks and flying without directions. The glasses fell down and the windows fell. All the huge trees [came] off the roots. Myanmar government authorities didn't do anything in four days. The prices went up aggressively and the business shop-owners are taking advantage of this matter and rising the prices up [by] mouth. No set price. Everything is [by] mouth and people are hungry and paying the prices they asked if they have money. The people who do not have money are starving without help.”

“Please pass this message to the people of Myanmar that we pray for them, and we are mourning as they are and we are as much sad as they are. Please be strong and do not vote for the government of Myanmar.”

Resident of Rangoon, May 10, 2008:

“Today the voting started although I am in Rangoon my voting list is in [Shan state]... Today my niece went to the polling station to vote, and the polling station in charge told her to vote for me also. So my niece voted on behalf of me. Now you can see how strict their rules are. My sister there also went to vote this morning. A man was standing at each door of the secret polling room made for secret vote. As my sister was not too sure where to write, she asked the man standing at the door. The man showed her and immediately the man gave a right tick; suddenly, my sister shouted at him and told him that she will tick by herself. So saying, she ticked it a CROSS. I know that the vote will be not counted...In Taunggyi [the Shan state capital], too, voting on behalf of the legal voter is allowed.”

“Yesterday night and the day before, there was a preaching ceremony at Eindawyar, Mandalay, by Ahshin [Rev.] Kawthanla. The ceremony was held to collect donations for the Nargis victims. He got 200 lakhs in the first day and collected 100 lakhs in the second day. The Sayadaw [senior monk] told the ceremony that the authorities came and asked for the donations that he had collected, and he replied that he would go by himself to the affected region to donate to the Nargis victims. People there were very happy to hear the Sayadaw’s remarks.”

Resident of Twante township in the Irrawaddy delta region, May 9, 2008:
“There are about 500 victims living in schools. They’re in Shwe-hsan-daw, Kyun-gyi, and in Oh-bo schools. In one school, there are about 150 or 120 people. There are about 4,000, 5,000, 8,000, 9,000 houses that were totally destroyed. There are victims from these houses. These people live in their grounds using waterproof sheets as roofing. It’s not really stable when the wind and the rain come. In that situation, they would rush to other people’s houses. They are living like that. It’s worse for people living in wards. People would come and give some people rice or boiled rice here and there. People would go around and find food. Some families are begging for food.”

“The division commander came on May 7 and dropped the things [aid], saying they were for the victims. They were distributed to the camps and schools where the victims were. The division commander went around and gave the things. On the boxes, it was written ‘General Myint Shwe’—it’s stamped on the boxes. There are snacks and Quaker oatmeal in those boxes. They’ve been stamped ‘General Myint Shwe.’ In those schools they videotaped and took pictures. Soon after the division commander had left, the township chief and the township SPDC [junta] chairman took everything away from the victims. These things never reached the victims.”

“Foreigners and tourists sent things to the camps where the victims were. They came to Shwe-hsan-daw school and brought bags of beans, rice, and salt. After they had done that, the Ya-Ya-Ka and the USDA came in the evening and took them away. They said it was to share with others. Nothing has been done yet. Today, however, the USDA and all said they were going to distribute rice. The victims haven’t received it yet, but I see them distributing it to their own people.”

“Not only are the authorities not distributing the food that has arrived, since they are not providing help, the storm victims are malnourished and starting to get sick. They don’t have housing, they don’t have food. They are facing these difficulties…Some people are sick. There are cases of malnutrition. Since they have not been eating, they’re malnourished. Since they are malnourished, they are contracting diseases. However, I haven’t seen any cases of diarrhea or cholera. They say there are rescue groups. There aren’t any. Those who have lost their houses are staying with their families. The Ya-Ya-Ka and Ma-Ya-Ka [local authorities] are not doing anything. They are making lists of these people, but things have not been distributed to them.”

Message from Burmese listener, May 9, 2008:
“We suffered many thousands of deaths, but we are very angry when we heard that there are disputes and arguments to provide emergency rescue and relief aid to the victims in this life-and-death situation. Treat this emergency as an emergency. No meetings, no decisions please. Relief from military regime is difficult to reach affected remote villages. Please come…by airplanes and helicopters and give us food, water, and medicines. Come first and solve the disputes later. If you are late, we, the victims might die in millions. RFA, please tell the world.”—U Sein Kyaing, from Bogalay, Burma, who lost his wife and three children in the cyclone

Message from Burmese listener, May 7, 2008:
“Luckily we have survived from Nargis. Now the water supply is OK in our Bahan, Shwegondaing. Still no electricity. People are experiencing difficulties to suck water to their rooms on the seventh floor, eighth floor. Some have to hire motors to suck water, for which they are charged 7,000-10,000 kyat per hour.”

“In Tharkay ta, ward 8, the government is giving some donations for the cyclone victims 10 ticles of oil per household and three tins of rice—a tin just means a cleaned-out container for condensed milk. Some foreigners came into ward 8, Tharkayta, and made some assessments by interviewing victims. [A resident of] a house that was completely destroyed was interviewed and asked whether they get any assistance from the government; the owner said NO. After the foreigners had gone, the Ward Peace and Development Council (WPDC) summoned the house owner… and scolded the owner why she said there was NO assistance from the government. The owner said she is saying it truly with no false words. She said she is just saying the truth.”

“The foreigners tried to take photos of the flattened State Primary School No. 11, but the WPDC never let them take photos. Thazin clinic at Thakayta is donating six pyis of rice [a pyi comprises eight emptied milk tins] and 10,000 kyats each to the AIDS victims. The assistance given by the government doesn’t meet the people's need. The donors in the wards are settling the troubled people in their own ways.”

“After Nargis, electricity was cut off, and the whole town is deserted, blacked out. At that time people needed security persons to patrol but saw no one. But before Nargis, the authorities heard there would be a demonstration, so they patrolled the whole town 24 hours [a day] with guns, cars carrying police, and army men loaded [in] trucks. When Nagis came, where have they gone?”

“People say that Nargis is just helping the military junta because the junta wants the people to suffer. Now Nargis has fulfilled their wish.”

“In Dagon South, ward 19, the Nargis victims rushed to take shelter in a Damayon [a small building or room used for prayers] after the storm because their houses were destroyed but the ward authorities came and forced them to get out because the place is meant [to be used as a] polling station.”

Interview with Woman in Hledan, May 7, 2008:
“In Hledan, people had cleared the area, including the trees, and now the military came and took pictures as if it was their work. I don't know whether it was to put in the newspapers. They're just faking it. Actually, it's the people who are doing these things on their own. Monks have been clearing up the trees, and they've told the monks not to do so. Also, there are many people in hospitals who are willing to donate blood to those who are in need, but they can't accept blood because there's no power and cold storages. Those who need blood can't receive blood now… at the [Rangoon] General Hospital as well as the Western Hospital. There are patients who need blood. There are people who are ready to donate blood. And yet since there's no cold storage, they cannot donate blood. They cannot accept blood. There was one patient hospitalized today. There are people who need blood.”

“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. Some floated into the sea. It seems like there's no rescue over there. People are helpless now …It's in Gadon-mani. It's a big village in Bogalay. It's a sub township of Bogalay, south of Bogalay…”

“…Gadon-mani village is in Irrawaddy Division. It's in Gadon-mani village. Near that is Gadon-lay…There's Zayet-kyee, also called Khatta Island. There's Gawdu and Nauk-mee, Hpaung-gyee-dan, Ashay-bya, Kaing-thaung, the airport compound… Also in Poe-laung and Mya-tha. In all of those areas, there is no one to rescue them. Corpses are also floating. There's nothing to eat or drink. There's no rescue.”

“You can't even count the number of bodies of the dead children and adults. That's the situation. There's no one to rescue people there. We are told that [rescue] people have not reached that area…”

“There are no ships for transportation. Thiha Zaw and Yannaing Aung, docked in Gadon-mani, have sunk. While docked at the yard, they banged against each other and have sunk. All the boats have sunk too.”

“…There are survivors in Gadon-mani. They are sharing the food that they still have. They are facing difficulties…There are still shops. They are living on dried goods like rice, oil, and medicine, from these shops… Zayet-kyee, which is also called Khatta Island is totally submerged under water. The water is about 15 feet high. The entire village is under water. Gadon-lay is under water. I would like to make a request to send rescue people there.”

“I am from Gadon-mani. On Khatta Island, the entire village is under water. The entire village of Gadon-lay is also under water. There are many villages like that. In that area, there are over 40 villages. They're connected to Laputta. There are the airport, Poe-laung, and Mya-tha, and Kaing-thaung. That area is totally gone. They've 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 burry them since there are too many of them…”

Male, describing situation in Rangoon:
“They say the military is clearing up places and distributing water, they are doing these things only in their main areas. 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 bathe. Another news I got is that there's a teaching monastery called Thadu Kyaung-daik, in Kyimyindine township. A donor came and donated electric saws. Monks were clearing up the roads using them. I saw them with my own eyes around 4 o'clock near Bah-gaya Valley. There were about 40 or 50 monks. They were clearing the roads. That's the situation. I just want you to know that. People are clearing their own roads.”

[Has the government helped?] “Nothing yet. There's no help.”

Another male:
“I'll tell you about water distribution. A fire truck came to a house in Maha Zaya Road in Bazundaung township, in Rangoon, and delivered water. Other people didn't get it. Only that house got it. We don't know who lives there. Everyone saw that and people were hoping it would distribute water to those in the ward. That fire truck gave water only to that house. Everyone was puzzled that 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…”

“I heard about other places but I saw this one with my own eyes. I saw it myself. I even have a photograph. Too bad I cannot upload it. I would like to spread this information on the internet. Yesterday, in Kaw-hmoo, in Kungyan-gone area, people came to visit prisoners. In those places, when the roof got blown away by the wind, rice grains were also blown away. Only the husks were left in that entire village. That happened in all the villages in that area. The rice grains opened and the seeds got blown away in the wind. As a result, the price of rice has become high in Rangoon. 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…There are families that came up for a prison visit here yesterday, and they had seen these things and they told us. We cannot get in touch with people from there. We can't telephone them either.”

Male, in Pyapon, May 8 , 2008:

“One of my sisters-in-law was hit by the waves and drowned. When I got there, to Taga village, which has about 1,000 people, there were only about two good houses left, and they were no longer steady. The rest of the small houses have all fallen and collapsed. Many cows and buffalo and people have died.”

“I live in the city of Hpya-pone. At first, the water rose four to five feet. The water came into the houses and the roofs flipped. Ward18 was entirely flattened. Houses there collapsed and were destroyed. General Aye Khaing, one of the SLORC members, is from Hpya-pone. He's from 55 Division 9. His father's house totally collapsed too. Also, Gen. Maung Maung Aye from Division 66. His older brother Ko Hla Soe drowned in Byaing-ga-zee village. Other villages and people died horrifically, and there are many deaths. There are corpses floating in a row along the Hpya-pone river. We can't find my sister-in-law's body.”

“Since Khayaybin-zauk-htoe is a city, the roofs flipped there. The roofs got destroyed. Trees fell on houses. There are fewer deaths in the cities. But there are many deaths in Ward 18, which is in the suburb. Many Karens live in Ward 11. They were poor to begin with, so they were living in small houses that were not properly built. They were built with bamboo and thatch. Those things fell on small children, and they died. The parents are quite…for some, they are the sole survivors of the entire house. So they're panic-stricken and walking around here and there. When we go about, people we know would say, ‘Please help me,’ and ask for all kinds of help. People are facing troubles.”

“In the city of Pyapon, it's not easy even to get rice. They said you'd get rice only if you give 100,000 [kyat]. People have looted rice mills. They would sell back the rice. In the city, there's a place called Chaung-dwin. Over there, the roof of the rice mills are left opened. The walls are no longer there. Water is also rising from below. So the rice got wet.”

“These are private rice mills. They have processed the rice of the rice traders. They have rice there, so people in the ward of Chaung-dwin went to ask for the wet rice since they didn't have anything to eat. The mill owner said he would give, and at first he started to give. At first, they took the good rice. Then they looted not only the wet rice but broken rice as well. Maung Maung Aye, the commander of Division 66, is from Pyapon, and his unit is now in charged of the security for Pyapon. They said no one must take the rice from the rice mill. Only they would take it. Only later will they distribute appropriately. That's what I heard.”

“Most of the people there are fishermen. When the weather was good, it's a lively village with lots of lights. A private fishing company owner had hundreds of workers who cut fish, cleaned fish, and dried fish. That's just one company. There are many companies, and their businesses would have bright lights. Now it's as if these businesses have been pulled into the sea, and it's just empty. Also, so many people died.”

In Kala-hteik, “of course it's also bad in those areas. Since it's in the ocean area—the ocean is wide to begin with—the wide area at the entrance of the river is submerged. In Gada village, where we lost my sister-in-law, was an area with not much water. They grew rice there. There's water only during the rainy season. Now there's about ten feet of water. It's now like the surface of the ocean. The mouth of the river joining the ocean used to be five miles wide, but now it's about 100 miles wide, like an ocean. Big waves came and the waves came and hit. People were in utter trouble and died. That's the situation.”

“There are no rescuers. They don't come here. In the city of Pyapon, however, the USDA and all are just idling. Only when the authorities come would they surround them and tried to be in the video. They're just faking it by being the USDA and firemen. They don't really provide help.”

“Some people from the city would send them dried noodles. There are people living with their relatives and friends and in monasteries. People would come and donate rice or give boiled rice. Friends, acquaintances, relatives, and siblings who would come when they hear the news and feed them. People are relying on them. They are also living on the food provided by the monasteries. They're living on boiled rice.”

“If you go from Rangoon, you can take the Ma-u-bin route. You cannot go from Rangoon to Dalah, Myin-hla-gon, Kaw-hmu, Kun-gyan-gone, and Daydayeh….We are in urgent need every hour. Be it UN or US, friends or enemies, we need all kinds of help from everyone. Everyone, monks and laymen and students, is welcoming the UN and the US. That's all I want to say.”


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