YANGON (Reuters) - Countries worldwide promised help to Myanmar after a cyclone killed 10,000 people in just one town, suggesting the overall death toll in the impoverished military-run Southeast Asian nation will be much higher.
“In Irrawaddy division the death toll amounts to more than 10,000,” said Tuesday morning’s Myanmar TV broadcast. “The missing is about 3,000. In Bogalay, the death toll is about 10,000.”
In the biggest city, Yangon, people were queuing up to share bottled water and there was still no electricity, four days after the vicious Cyclone Nargis struck the Irrawaddy delta, rice bowl for the country’s 53 million people.
“Generators are selling very well under the generals,” said one man waiting outside a shop, reflecting some of the resentment on the streets to what many described as a slow warning and response to the cyclone’s 190 km per hour winds.
Very few soldiers were seen clearing debris and trees, except at major intersections, residents in the former capital said. Monks and residents, using what tools they had, cut trees.
“The regime has lost a golden opportunity to send the soldiers as soon as the storm stopped to win the heart and soul of people,” said a retired civil servant.
Myanmar officials, after an initial count of a few hundred dead, announced dramatically higher tolls on Monday in meetings with international aid agencies and diplomats.
“The basic message was that they believe the provisional death toll was about 10,000 with 3,000 missing,” a Yangon-based diplomat told Reuters in Bangkok, summarising a briefing from Foreign Minister Nyan Win before the report on the 10,000 dead in one town.
GENERALS ACCEPT AID
The last major storm to ravage Asia was Cyclone Sidr, which killed 3,300 people in Bangladesh last November.
The scale of the disaster drew a rare acceptance of outside help from the diplomatically isolated generals, who spurned such approaches in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
The U.S. Embassy in Myanmar authorised the release of $250,000 in immediate emergency aid, and U.S. first lady Laura Bush, a critic of the junta, promised more would be forthcoming.
However, she urged Myanmar’s military rulers to first accept a U.S. disaster response team that so far has been kept out, saying it would clear the way for broader aid.
In a statement, Bush criticised Myanmar’s state-run media and said it “failed to issue a timely warning to citizens in the storm’s path”.
The secretive Myanmar military, which has ruled for 46 years, has moved even further into the shadows in the last six months due to widespread outrage at its bloody crackdown on protests led by Buddhist monks in September.
After getting a “careful green light” from the government, the United Nations said it was pulling out all the stops to send in emergency aid such as food, clean water, blankets and plastic sheeting.
“The U.N. will begin preparing assistance now to be delivered and transported to Myanmar as quickly as possible,” World Food Programme (WFP) spokesman Paul Risley said.
The U.N. office in Yangon said there was an urgent need for plastic sheeting, water purification tablets, cooking equipment, mosquito nets, health kits and food.
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