05 May, 2008

Cyclone Nargis wreaks havoc in Myanmar

At least 4,000 people are now believed to have been killed and about 3,000 more are missing after cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar, the country's state media has reported.

The death toll from the cyclone that hit over the weekend has officially reached 3,969 but with so many people missing is expected to rise, state television said on Monday.

Residents in this sprawling river delta city hacked their way through downed trees and trudged through knee-deep swirling brown waters Monday as they tried to pick up the pieces of their lives.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said it has released 200,000 Swiss Francs (about $190,000) to help with the aftermath.

"I think one of the biggest needs right now is to stave off disease," said spokesman Eric Porterfield. "We will be helping with the distribution of clean drinking water and setting up shelters."

Working with the Myanmar Red Cross agency, the International Red Cross is distributing drinking water, plastic tarps to cover roofs and blankets, among other items.

The UN says the government has not responded to its offer to help after the storm destroyed communities and left thousands of people homeless.

UN disaster experts said it could be days before the extent of the damage is known because of the government's tight control of communications.

The UN office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said that the government - which has indicated it will press ahead with a referendum on a new constitution on Saturday - was "having as much trouble as anyone else in getting a full overview" of the destruction.

"Roads are not accessible and many small villages were hit and will take time to reach," Terje Skavdal, the regional head of UNOCHA, said.

Residents of a slum of about 20,000 people said they were unlikely to receive help because the military government is not allowing NGOs to assist.

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.

It said the situation outside Yangon was "critical, with shelter and safe water being the principal immediate needs."

Thailand responded to the disaster, sending a C-130 transport plane loaded with 9 tonnes of food and medicine to Yangon after the airport reopened on Monday.



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