Cyclone death toll nears 15,000 as Myanmar seeks aid (Lead)

May 6th, 2008 - 4:46 pm ICT by admin  

Yangon, May 6 (DPA) The toll in Cyclone Nargis, which smashed into central Myanmar over the weekend, has risen to almost 15,000 with about 3,000 still listed as missing, a senior minister said Tuesday. Information minister Kyaw Hsan said at a press conference in Yangon that the toll in Bogalay township in the Irrawaddy region was close to 10,000 while the toll on Haing Kyi Island was 975, on Mawlamyaing Island 1,835 and in Laputta township about 1,000.

In Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city and its chief commercial hub, the cyclone killed 59 people, the brigadier general said.

Altogether, Kyaw Hsan said the government’s latest estimate for the cyclone’s victims - as of late Monday - was 14,911 with about 2,000 still listed as missing in the Irrawaddy region and about 500 in Yangon.

He reiterated the government’s appeal for foreign aid.

“We need aid from both local and foreign sources,” Kyaw Hsan said. “It is welcome.”

Several countries have pledged aid to Myanmar - including $3 million from the European Union, $750,000 dollars from Germany, $250,000 dollars from the United States and two ships of supplies from India - to cope with the humanitarian catastrophe caused by the cyclone, which has yet to be fully evaluated.

On Tuesday afternoon, neighbouring Thailand flew in more than $300,000 dollars of medical and food aid, and a planeload of similar supplies from China was also expected.

Several United Nations agencies met in Bangkok Tuesday to prepare a massive disaster-relief programme for the devastated country, but details of the international effort have not yet been released.

It also remains unclear whether Myanmar, which has been run by military dictatorships since 1962, would place restrictions on the aid deliveries and foreign aid workers as it has in the past.

“We can’t yet provide any details,” said Major General Maung Maung Swe, minister of social welfare and resettlement, who attended the press conference with the information minister.

Cyclone Nargis has shattered the isolated country at a sensitive time politically as the ruling military junta is preparing to hold a national referendum Saturday to win the approval of a constitution that would essentially cement the military’s dominance in Myanmar’s future elected governments.

Critics of the referendum and the military-drafted constitution have called on the government to postpone the vote to better cope with the humanitarian challenge that it faces in the coming weeks.

Although the military stated Monday that the referendum would be held as scheduled, Kyaw Hsan hinted Tuesday that it could still be deferred.

“The referendum date depends on the referendum holding committee,” he said.

Hundreds of thousands have been left homeless and without basic utilities by the cyclone, which blew off the Bay of Bengal late Friday, packing winds of up to 200 kilometres per hour, wrecking much of the country’s already fragile infrastructure and threatening its precarious food supply.

Yangon, Myanmar’s former capital, was among the places hardest hit by the storm, which uprooted trees, toppled electricity and telephone poles, and burst water pipes, leaving the city of several million without basic utilities.

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