Myanmar cyclone deaths top 15,000
Some 30,000 are missing
The cyclone and storm surge that tore through Myanmar`s Irrawaddy delta killed at least 15,000 people and left 30,000 missing, officials said on Tuesday, warning the toll could rise in low-lying, remote villages, according to Reuters.
Reflecting the scale of the disaster, the ruling military junta said it would postpone to May 24 a constitutional referendum in the worst-hit areas of Yangon and the sprawling Irrawaddy delta.
However, state TV said the May 10 vote on a charter, part of the army`s much-criticized "roadmap to democracy", would proceed as planned in the rest of the Southeast Asian country where security forces violently cracked down on protests last year.
Giving the first detailed account of the worst cyclone to hit Asia since 1991, when 143,000 people died in Bangladesh, Foreign Minister Nyan Win said on state television 10,000 people had died just in Bogalay, a town 90 km (50 miles) southwest of Yangon.
After a meeting with Myanmar`s ambassador to Bangkok, Thai Foreign Minister Noppadol Pattama said he had been told 30,000 people were missing after Saturday`s devastating storm.
"The losses have been much greater than we anticipated," he said after ambassador Ye Win declined to speak to reporters.
The total left homeless by the 190 km (120 miles) per hour winds and 12 foot (3.5 meter) storm surge is in the several hundred thousands, United Nations aid officials say.
The scale of the disaster in the military-ruled southeast Asian nation drew a rare acceptance of outside help from the diplomatically isolated generals, who spurned such approaches in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
However, there could be big political fallout for a military junta that has prided itself on its ability to cope with any challenge thrown its way, analysts said.
"The myth they have projected about being well-prepared has been totally blown away," said political analyst Aung Naing Oo, who fled to Thailand after a brutally crushed 1988 uprising. "This could have a tremendous political impact in the long term."
Aid agency World Vision in Australia said it had been granted special visas to send in personnel to back up 600 staff in the impoverished Southeast Asian country.
"This is massive. It is not necessarily quite tsunami level, but in terms of impact of millions displaced, thousands dead, it is just terrible," World Vision Australia head Tim Costello said.
"Organizations like ours have been given permission, which is pretty unprecedented, to fly people in. This shows how grave it is in the Burmese government`s mind," he said.
The town-by-town list of dead and missing announced by Nyan Win, a major-general, showed 14,859 deaths in the Irrawaddy area and 59 in Yangon division, which includes the former Burma`s biggest city.
Residents of the city of 5 million were queuing up for bottled water and there was still no electricity four days after the vicious Cyclone Nargis struck.
Prices of food, fuel and construction materials have skyrocketed, and most shops have sold out of candles and batteries. An egg costs three times what it did on Friday.
"Generators are selling very well under the generals," said one man waiting outside a shop, reflecting some of the resentment on the streets to what many described as a slow warning and response.
Buddhist monks and home-owners hacked at fallen trees with hand saws and axes, trying to clear roads. Soldiers were seen clearing debris and trees only at major intersections, fuelling a sense among residents that the military was not doing enough.
Anger at the authorities is still high because of their bloody crackdown on protests led by Buddhist monks in September.
"The regime has lost a golden opportunity to send the soldiers as soon as the storm stopped to win the heart and soul of people," one retired civil servant told a Reuters.
"But where are the soldiers and police? They were very quick and aggressive when there were protests in the streets last year," he said.