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Myanmar Cyclone Death Toll Could Top 10,000

BY Admin  May 5, 2008 at 7:15 PM EST

Cyclone damage in Myanmar

“According to the latest information, more than 10,000 people were
killed,” Nyan Win told Agence France-Presse after briefing foreign
diplomats. “Information is still being collected, and there could be more
casualties.”

He added that the normally closed society would welcome outside help “because our people are in difficulty,” he said.

Earlier Monday, the government raised the death toll more than tenfold from an earlier tally, saying that almost 4,000 people were killed and thousands of others were missing.

Tropical Cyclone Nargis hit the Southeast Asian country, also known as Burma, on Saturday with winds up to 120 mph, cutting off electricity and ripping the roofs off schools, a prison and other buildings in Myanmar’s largest city Yangon.

At first, the government set the death toll at 351 before increasing it Monday to 3,939. The state radio station operating out of the country’s capital Naypyitaw said 2,879 more people are unaccounted for in one town, Bogalay, in the low-lying Irrawaddy River delta region, the AP reported.

Citizens in Yangon lined up to buy candles, food and water, and many walked to the city’s lakes to wash. Hotels and wealthy families were using generators, but sparingly because of the soaring cost of fuel, according to the AP.

“What is clear is that we are dealing with a major emergency situation and the priority needs now are shelter and clean drinking water,” Richard Horsey, a spokesman for the United Nations disaster response office in Bangkok, told the New York Times.

Residents, as well as Buddhist monks from the city’s many monasteries, worked together to chop through trees and other debris blocking the roads.

Officials from Myanmar’s military government met Monday with international aid agency representatives to discuss assistance, and neighboring Thailand said it would fly in some aid on Tuesday, according to the AP.

Thai government spokesman Wichianchote Sukchotrat said Myanmar officials had asked for food, medical supplies and construction equipment.

Michael Annear, regional disaster chief for the International Red Cross, said emergency supplies were being handed out from stockpiles in Myanmar but more was needed, reported Reuters.

At a White House news conference, U.S. first lady Laura Bush accused the
regime of failing to issue a “timely warning” to people in the path
of one of the country’s worst storms in recent memory.

“The United States stands prepared to provide an assistance team and
much-needed supplies to Burma, as soon as the Burmese government accepts our
offer,” she said.

Despite the damage from the cyclone, the Myanmar government indicated it would proceed with a referendum on the country’s draft constitution on May 10.

“It’s only a few days left before the coming referendum and people are eager to cast their vote,” the state-owned newspaper Myanma Ahlin said Monday.

Pro-democracy groups within the country and some international observers are calling the constitution a means for the military to continue its hold on power. And if the junta is seen as failing disaster victims, voters who already view the government as quashing democracy and damaging the economy could take out their frustrations at the ballot box, according to the AP.