Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Myanmar cyclone death toll soars past 22,000: state radio




Now I have to cry. The initial reports of 350+ dead was bad enough.
The cyclone death toll soared above 22,000 on Tuesday and more than 41,000 others were missing as foreign countries mobilized to rush in aid after the country's deadliest storm on record, state radio reported.

Up to 1 million people may be homeless after Cyclone Nargis hit the Southeast Asian nation, also known as Burma, early Saturday. Some villages have been almost totally eradicated and vast rice-growing areas are wiped out, the World Food Program said.

Images from state television showed large trees and electricity poles sprawled across roads and roofless houses ringed by large sheets of water in the Irrawaddy River delta region, which is regarded as Myanmar's rice bowl.

"From the reports we are getting, entire villages have been flattened and the final death toll may be huge," Mac Pieczowski, who heads the International Organization for Migration office in Yangon, said in a statement.

Buddhist monks and Catholic nuns wielding knives and axes joined Yangon residents Tuesday in clearing roads of ancient, fallen trees that were once the city's pride. And soldiers were out on the streets in large numbers for the first time since the cyclone hit, helping to clear trees as massive as 15 feet in diameter.

President Bush called on Myanmar's military junta to allow the U.S. to help. The White House said the U.S. will send more than $3 million to help cyclone victims, up from an initial emergency contribution of $250,000.

"We're prepared to move U.S. Navy assets to help find those who have lost their lives, to help find the missing, to help stabilize the situation. But in order to do so, the military junta must allow our disaster assessment teams into the country," he said.

Bush spoke at a ceremony where he signed legislation awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to Burmese democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Myanmar's military regime has signaled it will welcome aid supplies for victims of a devastating cyclone, the U.N. said Tuesday, clearing the way for a major relief operation from international organizations.

But U.N. workers were still awaiting their visas to enter the country, said Elisabeth Byrs of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

"The government has shown a certain openness so far," Byrs said. "We hope that we will get the visas as soon as possible, in the coming hours. I think the authorities have understood the seriousness of the situation and that they will act accordingly."

The appeal for outside assistance was unusual for Myanmar's ruling generals, who have long been suspicious of international organizations and closely controlled their activities. Several agencies, including the International Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders, have limited their presence as a consequence.

Allowing any major influx of foreigners could carry risks for the military, injecting unwanted outside influence and giving the aid givers rather than the junta credit for a recovery.

However, keeping out international aid would focus blame squarely on the military should it fail to restore peoples' livelihoods.

Note: Headline links to source.

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