Myanmar cyclone death toll reaches 3,969: state television


YANGON: May 5, 2008. (AFP) The death toll from the cyclone that hit Myanmar over the weekend has reached 3,969, state television said Monday, warning that thousands more could be dead.

Aid agencies Monday rushed emergency food and water into Myanmar after the cyclone tore into the southwest of the impoverished nation. Despite the devastation wreaked by tropical cyclone Nargis, the ruling junta vowed to press ahead with its controversial referendum this weekend on a new constitution, which critics say will entrench military rule. People of the main city, Yangon, were busy Monday clearing roads blocked by fallen trees and queuing to collect water from neighbours with private wells, as supplies were cut by the storm. "I haven't seen anything like this in my whole life. It will take at least a month to return to normal," a 70-year-old man told AFP. Several coastal villages southwest of Yangon were, destroyed according to a preliminary assessment by the International Federation of the Red Cross, its spokesman Michael Annear told AFP in Bangkok. The villages in the Ayeyawaddy (Irrawaddy) delta bore the brunt of Nargis, which came in from the Bay of Bengal and combined with a sea surge. State media said nearly 98,000 people were homeless on the delta's Haing Gyi island alone, which is home to a navy base. Annear said teams in Myanmar were distributing essential supplies and would bring in more from Malaysia as soon as possible. "We're distributing supplies for those who need shelter, plastic sheeting to cover roofs, water purification tablets, we are currently procuring 5,000 litres of water, cooking items, bednets, blankets and clothes for those in most need," he said. "We went out as soon as possible but there were problems with mobility due to a lot of debris and power lines down. Authorities and the local community have been clearing the road networks so mobility has increased today." Hundreds of monks joined in efforts by residents, police and troops to clear blocked roads. "The government should do more and we need emergency assistance. Water is the main need for us. I haven't taken a bath for three days," a taxi driver told AFP. Annear said it would take days to get a full picture of the extent of the devastation. The military government said Saturday's referendum on a new constitution intended to usher in democracy would go ahead, but with food prices tripling and water supplies cut, residents said they had more pressing problems. "We don't want any democracy, we just want water now," a 30-year-old man said as he queued at a neighbour's well. But the junta, based in the remote new capital of Naypyidaw, insisted "the entire people of the country are eagerly looking forward" to the referendum, the New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported. The generals say it will pave the way for multiparty elections in 2010, but opponents say the charter will entrench military rule. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's house in Yangon, were she is under house arrest, was damaged but the Nobel peace laureate was unhurt, a Myanmar official told AFP. "Her house was also hit a little but she is safe," the official said. Meanwhile United Nations agencies and international charities were meeting at the UN's Bangkok headquarters to coordinate their response to the disaster, Terje Skavdal, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told AFP. He said Myanmar's national Red Cross was the only agency able to commence damage assessment Sunday, but other agencies had now started their own. The country's infrastructure has been run into the ground by decades of mismanagement by the military, which has ruled since 1962. Myanmar has also suffered more than a decade of US and European sanctions over the continuing detention of Aung San Suu Kyi. Sanctions were tightened after the junta's crackdown on mass protests last September left 31 people dead, according to UN figures.

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