Myanmar struggles in wake of storm

Residents face aftermath of powerful Cyclone Giri, as aid groups warn number of dead could be higher than official toll.

    The military government said the storm destroyed buildings and displaced tens of thousands of people [Photos: DVB]

    Residents of Myanmar are cleaning up in the aftermath of a powerful cyclone that struck the country's western coast, killing at least 27 people and leaving at least 15 others missing.

    Cyclone Giri flattened thousands of buildings as it struck last week, state television reported on Monday, marking the first announcement from the military government on casualties and damage from the storm.

    However, reports from Myanmar exile websites say the death toll had reached much higher.

    The Democratic Voice of Burma listed the number of dead or missing at 30, citing a resident of the badly-hit Kyaukphyu town in Arakan state.

    Meanwhile, the Irrawaddy magazine said at least 84 people had been killed in the storm, with at least 48 bodies discovered in Arakan state's Myebon township, which was also badly hit.

    Category four storm

    The storm came ashore from the Bay of Bengal on Friday with winds of up to 193kph, lashing several coastal areas of western Rakhine state that are home to poor families who live mostly in bamboo huts.

    The category four storm hit several areas of western Rakhine state including Myebon, Pauktaw, Myanaung, Ponnagyu and Kyaukphyu before moving into central Myanmar.

    The country's military government said tens of thousands of people have been displaced, but one international aid organisation said the number of those affected could be much higher.

    "Whereas over the weekend we were anticipating the number of people affected were in the tens of thousands, this morning we estimate the number of people affected as being in the hundreds of thousands," Andrew Kirkwood, the country director of Save the Children, told Al Jazeera.

    Aid workers have said the damage in hard-to-reach rural areas is yet to be assessed and some have warned that the death toll could rise rapidly.

    Memories of Nargis

    The Myanmar Red Cross and the social welfare ministry has set up three makeshift camps in Kyaukphyu town to house about 5,000 people.

    A Red Cross worker in the former capital Yangon estimated that about 70 per cent of Kyaukphyu town was destroyed, with about 60,000 people in the district needing assistance.

    Myanmar is frequently hit by tropical storms and in 2008 was battered by Cyclone Nargis, which left 138,000 people dead or missing, mostly in the southwest delta region.

    Nargis unleashed winds of 240kph and storm surges up to four metres high, sweeping away thousands of homes, flooding rice fields with salt water and ravaging schools and hospitals.

    Myanmar's military government faced international criticism for its response to the disaster.

    It was accused of blocking emergency aid and initially refusing to grant access to humanitarian workers and supplies.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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