At least 15,000 killed in Myanmar cyclone (Third lead)

May 5th, 2008 - 10:02 pm ICT by admin  

Yangon, May 5 (Xinhua) At least 15,000 people have been killed in two divisions of Yangon and Irrawaddy in Cyclone Nargis that swept Myanmar’s five divisions last Friday and Saturday, according to official sources Monday evening. The casualties in Irrawaddy division’s Bogalay alone are feared to have gone beyond 10,000 and at least 1,000 in Laputta in the same division.

Earlier official figures said 3,880 people were killed in Irrawaddy division.

The sources said 2,375 people in the division and 504 in Yangon division were missing.

In Haing Kyi island in the Irrawaddy division alone, nearly 20,000 houses were destroyed, leaving more than 92,000 people homeless.

The deadly cyclone, which occurred over the Bay of Bengal, hit Yangon, Bago, Irawaddy, Kayin and Mon.

Myanmar has declared the five divisions and states as disaster-hit regions.

The government has formed a national central committee for prevention of natural disaster to carry out relief and resettlement tasks.

DPA adds: In Bangkok, United Nations agencies and other international aid organisations met Monday to prepare for emergency disaster relief for the country, although Myanmar’s military leaders had yet to give the green light for such an operation.

“That’s basically a limitation, but the government has at least not said no,” said Terje Skavdal, regional director of the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), who headed the Bangkok meeting.

While there are already several UN offices in Myanmar, they are small and not capable of managing the aftermath of a disaster of this magnitude.

“It’s too early to provide an accurate assessment but we’re speaking about hundreds of thousands of homeless,” Skavdal said. “The UN support system is not sufficient inside Myanmar.”

There are doubts that the military would welcome international aid at this juncture, as it is gearing up to stage a national referendum Saturday to vote on a draft constitution that promises to legitimise the military’s dominant role in Myanmar’s future politics.

“I think they are too proud to call for international aid,” said Jens Orback, a former Swedish minister for democracy and gender equality who was in Yangon at the weekend to assess preparations for the referendum when he got caught in the cyclone.

“I think that now, the generals want to show that they can put the country in order again without international help,” Orback said in Bangkok.

Despite the disaster wrought by the cyclone, state media reports Monday confirmed that Myanmar’s military regime intended to go ahead with a referendum May 10.

“The referendum is only a few days away, and the people are eagerly looking forward to voting,” a government statement carried by state-run media said.

The storm’s devastation has raised questions about the propriety of the government’s referendum plans.

“Yangon … is without electricity and without water, so I don’t see how you can conduct a referendum under those conditions,” one Yangon-based Western diplomat said.

“It’s a catastrophe,” he added. “Almost all the electricity poles were blown down. It will take weeks to repair.”

The Irrawaddy division was also hard hit by Nargis although details about its effects there remained sketchy.

Myanmar’s third most populous city of Pathein, the Irrawaddy capital, was reportedly inundated by floodwaters, causing untold damage and deaths.

The fertile, low-lying division is Myanmar’s chief rice-growing area.

Damage to the Irrawaddy’s irrigation systems and crops was unreported by state television, which is tightly monitored in the military-run country.

A Western diplomat said. “This will certainly effect the rice crop negatively.”

The disaster caused sharp rises in fuel and food prices by Monday in Yangon.

A bottle of water was selling for 1,000 kyat, compared with 350 kyats last week, while the minimum bus fare had jumped from 50 kyats to 500 kyats in the city, a Yangon resident said.

Last week’s black-market rate for the kyat was 1,120 to the dollar.

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