Cyclone kills nearly 4 000 in Burma

Burma said on Monday that nearly 4 000 people had been killed in the cyclone that tore into the impoverished and secretive Asian nation at the weekend, and that tens of thousands more could also be dead.

The announcement on state television increased the death toll from Tropical Cyclone Nargis more than ten-fold in Burma, which has been under military rule for decades and is one of the poorest on the planet.

The United Nations had earlier said hundreds of thousands of people had been left homeless when the storm, packing winds of 190km per hour, ripped through the countryside, destroying entire villages in its fury.

Thousands of buildings were flattened as the furious cyclone also ripped power lines to shreds, uprooted trees that blocked key roads and disrupted water supplies in the main city and former capital, Rangoon.

“I haven’t seen anything like this in my whole life,” said one elderly resident.


Nargis struck Burma late on Friday around the mouth of the Irrawaddy River, about 220km south-west of Rangoon, before hitting the country’s economic hub.

As aid agencies struggled to rush emergency supplies of food and water into the country, the ruling junta vowed to press ahead with a referendum this weekend on a new Constitution.

But that was before the release of the dramatically higher death toll, announced on Burma television — which like all media in the nation, under military rule since 1962, is strictly controlled by the government.

“So far, in Ayeyawaddy [Irrawaddy] and Yangon [Rangoon] division, 3 969 were killed, 41 people injured and 2 129 missing,” the news bulletin said.

“According to the information that we have as of May 5, there could be tens of thousands dead in Bogolay township and thousands more dead in Labutta township,” it said.

The report will come as more bad news for aid organisations battling the devastation on the ground and the intricacies of getting supplies and personnel into a nation which is one of the most isolated in the world.

Well before the latest figures emerged, the International Federation of the Red Cross said in a preliminary estimate that several villages had been destroyed — wiped out in toto by one of the worst storms here in memory.

The winds combined with a sea surge in the Bay of Bengal, wreaking devastation in a country where the military normally imposes tough restrictions on the activities of aid agencies.

Richard Horsey, a UN official in neighbouring Thailand, said that several hundred thousand people had been left homeless and without drinking water across a broad swath of the country.

“If we look at the emergency needs for shelter and drinking water, there are several hundred thousand people who will need urgent assistance,” he said.

UN agencies and other international aid groups met earlier on Monday in Bangkok to begin coordinating a response.

Hundreds of monks joined in efforts by residents, police and troops to clear blocked roads, while the homeless huddled under makeshift shelters at Buddhist temples.

The military government said Saturday’s referendum on a new Constitution intended to usher in democracy would go ahead, but with food prices tripling and water supplies cut, residents said they had more pressing problems.

“We don’t want any democracy, said one man queuing urgently at a neighbour’s well. “We just want water now.”

The junta, whose power base is now the new remote capital of Naypyidaw, said “the entire people of the country are eagerly looking forward” to the referendum, according to the official New Light of Myanmar newspaper.

Burma has also suffered more than a decade of US and European sanctions over the continuing detention of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Sanctions were tightened after the junta’s crackdown on mass protests last September left 31 people dead, according to UN figures. – AFP

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Record 45mn need urgent food aid in Southern Africa — UN

Roughly 45-million people in southern Africa are in urgent need of food aid as a result of drought, flooding and economic hardship, the UN...

Why the Gambia’s plea for the Rohingya matters for international justice

In early December, the International Court of Justice heard arguments filed by the Gambia against Myanmar for violations of the Genocide Convention. This included...

Aung San Suu Kyi at the ICJ: when the personal is political

Myanmar’s leader personally faces allegations while avoiding the task of changing the country’s trajectory

Freed Myanmar journos a symbol of Suu Kyi’s tarnished image

Suu Kyi was once the darling of the foreign media, but her silence over the persecuted Rohingya minority has drawn widespread condemnation

Top Myanmar court rejects appeal of Reuters journalists

Reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been behind bars since their arrest in December 2017 under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act

New limbs, new life for South Sudan amputees

South Sudan's five-year-long civil war has left possibly tens of thousands of people without limbs — a toll that may never be accurately established
Advertising

Subscribers only

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

ANC’s rogue deployees revealed

Despite 6 300 ANC cadres working in government, the party’s integrity committee has done little to deal with its accused members

More top stories

The Nigerian government is killing its citizens — again

‘Nigeria kills its people. Nigeria has always killed its people.’

Finance probe into the Ingonyama Trust Board goes ahead

The threat of legal action from ITB chairperson Jerome Ngwenya fails to halt forensic audit ordered by the land reform minister

Ailing Far East Rand hospital purchases ‘vanity’ furniture

Dr Zacharia Mathaba, who purchased the furniture, is a suspected overtime fraudster and was appointed as Gauteng hospital chief executive despite facing serious disciplinary charges

Institutions of higher learning should commemorate their casualties

The bust of Matikweni Nkuna at Tshwane University of Technology is an example of how we should honour those who fought for equal access to education
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday