THERE were fears last night that the death toll from a devastating cyclone in Burma could reach more than 10,000 in the low-lying area where the storm wreaked the most havoc.
Tropical Cyclone Nargis hit the south-east Asian country early on Saturday with winds of up to 190km/h. It knocked out electricity to the country’s largest city, Yangon, and left hundreds of thousands of people homeless.
Some sought refuge at Buddhist monasteries while others lined up yesterday to buy candles, which had doubled in price, and water since the lack of electricity-driven pumps had left most households dry.
Burma is not known to have an adequate disaster warning system and many rural buildings are constructed of thatch, bamboo and other materials easily destroyed by fierce storms.
“The government misled people. They could have warned us about the severity of the coming cyclone so we could be better prepared,” said Thin Thin, a store owner.
Burma’s ruling junta, which has spurned the international community for decades, appealed for aid yesterday. But the US state department said Burma’s government had not granted permission for a disaster assistance response team to enter the country.
The situation in the countryside remained unclear because of poor communications and number of roads left impassable by the storm.
Last night, the Department of Foreign Affairs said it had not been told of any Irish citizens injured or killed in the cyclone.
A spokeswoman said Irish Aid will meet this morning to plan out its response and decide how it can help the Burmese people.
Meanwhile, campaigners against the dictatorship, Burma Action Ireland (BAI), said it was a terrible disaster for people already suffering under political tyranny.
BAI co-ordinator Mary Montaut feared the military junta would exploit the chaos to wrestle power away from the people for another decade.
“We already had grave reservations about the referendum due to be held next Saturday and at the moment the junta is saying it is still going ahead with this despite the cyclone,” she said.
“We fear the referendum will become operative and the military will be given power for the next 10 years and stay in parliament.”
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