06 May, 2008

Death toll from Myanmar cyclone soars

The death toll in Myanmar from Cyclone Nargis reached 22,464 on Tuesday, Myanmar state media reported, putting the number of missing at 41,054 and those injured at 6,708.

Myanmar's military regime on Tuesday appealed for international aid amid the rising death toll in the wake of the cyclone, which smashed the country's central region over the weekend.

The death toll is the latest in a steadily escalating official count since the Cyclone Nargis struck early Saturday, devastating much of the fertile Irrawaddy River delta and the nation's major city, Yangon.

At a news conference in Yangon, the minister for relief and resettlement, Maung Maung Swe, said 41,000 people were still missing in the cyclone, which triggered a surge of water inland from the sea.

"More deaths were caused by the tidal wave than the storm itself," he said, in the first official description of the destruction. "The wave was up to 12 fee (3.5 meters) high and it swept away and inundated half the houses in low-lying villages. They did not have anywhere to flee."

The Irrawaddy Delta before the cyclone hit (left) and after (right) [Image: Nasa]

The two satellite photos above from the US space agency Nasa show the devastating affect of Cyclone Nargis which swept over the Irrawaddy delta region of Myanmar on Saturday. (Image source)

Up to 1 million people may be homeless after Cyclone Nargis hit the Southeast Asian nation, also known as Burma.

Information Minister Kyaw Hsan told a press conference in Yangon early Tuesday that the death toll in Bogalay township in the Irrawaddy region was close to 10,000 while the toll on Haing Kyi Island was 975, on Mawlamyaing Island 1,835 and in Laputta township about 1,000.

In Yangon, Myanmar's largest city and its chief commercial hub, the cyclone killed 59 people, the brigadier general said.

The minister reiterated the government's appeal for foreign aid.

'We need aid from both local and foreign sources,' Kyaw Hsan said. 'It is welcome.'

Cyclone Nargis has shattered the isolated country at a sensitive time politically as the ruling military junta is preparing to hold a national referendum Saturday to win the approval of a constitution that would essentially cement the military's dominance in Myanmar's future elected governments.

Critics of the referendum and the military-drafted constitution have called on the government to postpone the vote to better cope with the humanitarian challenge that it faces in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, international relief operations are slowly beginning to get access to Myanmar.

The first emergency flight from Thailand was expected to land in Yangon on Tuesday afternoon; the European Union has pledged just over $3m in aid; while China has also said it is ready to offer assistance.

China has long been a staunch diplomatic ally of Myanmar's military government, which is regarded as a pariah in the West because of its human rights record.

The US has also pledged emergency aid, but said more would only be forthcoming once Myanmar allows international assessment teams into the country.



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