Myanmar Death Toll May Reach 100,000

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The death toll in Myanmar may have reached 100,000, while about 95 percent of the country's buildings have been demolished, the top U.S. diplomat their said Wednesday.

U.S. charge d'affaires Shari Villarosa called conditions in the area "increasingly horrendous."

"There is a very real risk of disease outbreaks as long as this continues," she said.

Eyewitness accounts of debris and bodies floating in flooded waters in the devastated region have prompted world officials to declare the country a 'major disaster.'

United Nations officials on Wednesday declared the Myanmar delta the worst area struck by Cyclone Nargis last Saturday.

Military "Paranoid"

Meanwhile, the U.S. is still awaiting clearance to send prepared aid and equipment to the area, where Villarosa says the military junta is "paranoid" to accept American assistance.

Enormous logistical and political challenges are presently hampering several humanitarian aid efforts.

Although international aid is slowly reaching Myanmar, much of the Irrawaddy delta, where most of the country's confirmed 22,000 victims died, is still cut off from the world.

"Basically the entire lower delta region is under water," said Richard Horsey, Bangkok-based spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid. He predicted the casualty figure could rise "dramatically" beyond the latest figure given by Myanmar officials Tuesday.

In Geneva, the United Nations said Myanmar has authorized an airplane to bring U.N. aid supplies to cyclone victims.

But permission was still pending for a U.N. coordination team to accompany the flight, which would take off Wednesday, U.N. spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said.

Also the U.N. reported that some of their staff in Bangkok, Thailand were also awaiting approval of their visas so they can enter Myanmar and complete damage assessments.

India Warned of Storm

India's meteorological department said Wednesday that it had warned Myanmar of the storm two days before it made landfall there. This confirmed suspicions that the ruling junta and his military generals did not warn the populace or prepare the country for the impending disaster.

The state-run Indian Meteorological Department had been keeping a close tabs on the depression in the Bay of Bengal since it was first spotted on April 28 and sent regular updates about its progress to all the countries in its path, department spokesman B. P. Yadav said.

Many Yangon residents are far from pleased, saying they were given vague and incorrect information about the approaching storm.

They also received no instructions on how to cope when it struck. The information that the government did give out was broadcast on television.

This was of little use to much of the population that does not rely on electronic media for information, since power and TV access is very limited.

Aid Organizations Reach Affected Area

International aid organizations began the daunting task of distributing essential relief supplies in the region on Wednesday.

The supplies included water purification tablets, mosquito nets, plastic sheeting, and basic medical supplies. Heavily flooded areas are reported to be only accessible only by boat.

"Teams are talking about bodies floating around in the water.. It's a huge, huge problem just to get these goods out," Yadav said. This is "a major, major disaster we're dealing with."

State television on Wednesday quoted Yangon official Gen. Tha Aye as reassuring people that the situation was "returning to normal" in certain areas of Karen state that were hit by the cyclone. Video broadcast on television showed him thanking volunteers and visiting the village of Naungbo, outside Yangon.

However, in nearby Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city, cyclone survivors faced new challenges as markets doubled the price of rice, charcoal and bottled water. Electricity was restored to a small portion of the city's 6.5 million residents, but most had no water.

At a morning market in the Yangon suburb of Kyimyindaing, a fish monger shouted to shoppers: "Come, come the fish is very fresh."

But an angry woman snapped back: "Even if the fish is fresh, I have no water to cook it!"

The U.N.'s World Food Program said late Tuesday it has begun distributing aid in damaged areas of Yangon, where 800 tons of food had arrived.

But some villages have been almost totally eradicated, and vast rice-growing areas were wiped out by Cyclone Nargis, which hit Myanmar early Saturday, the WFP said.

More Aid Coming

The United States said it was giving $3 million to U.N. agencies to help with their efforts. The European Union will provide $3.1 million.

Britain said it will contribute up to about $9.8 million in initial relief funds and will send an emergency field team to help with international relief efforts.

China is providing $1 million in aid, including relief materials worth $500,000, to help with disaster relief and rehabilitation efforts, a spokesman said.

Indonesia, the country hardest hit by the 2004 Asian tsunami, pledged $1 million in aid on Wednesday.

But the United States and France complained about Myanmar's reluctance to accept direct aid.

President Bush on Tuesday called on Myanmar's military junta to allow the U.S. Navy to help search for the dead and missing.

But Myanmar's military, which regularly accuses the United States of trying to subvert the regime, was unlikely to accept U.S. military presence in its territory.

Source: The Associated Press

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