Myanmar Cyclone Death Toll Soars
IslamOnline.net & News Agencies
Satellite images showed the entire coastal plain of the country under water. (Reuters)
YANGON — Myanmar's devastating cyclone has claimed the lives of more than 22,500 people while 41,000 others are still missing, amid increasing criticism for the ruling junta for mishandling the crisis .
"More deaths were caused by the tidal wave than the storm itself," Minister for Relief and Resettlement Maung Maung Swe told a news conference in the rubble-strewn former capital Yangon, reported Reuters.
"The wave was up to 12 feet (3.5 meters) high and it swept away and inundated half the houses in low-lying villages," he said, giving the first detailed description of the weekend cyclone.
"They did not have anywhere to flee."
Myanmar's military government raised the death toll from Cyclone Nargis, which barreled into the Irrawaddy river delta early at the weekend, to nearly 22,500 with a further 41,000 missing.
State television said 21,793 people were killed and 40,695 were missing in Irrawaddy division, while 671 were killed and 359 people were missing in Yangon, the biggest city.
The Irrawaddy delta was submerged by floodwaters, leaving scenes of utter devastation and desperate homeless survivors.
Witnesses described rice fields littered with corpses.
Social Welfare Minister Maung Maung Swe told reporters that most of the town of Bogalay, one of the delta areas that bore the brunt of the storm, had been washed away.
"Ninety-five percent of the houses in Bogalay were destroyed," he said.
Satellite images from US space agency NASA showed virtually the entire coastal plain of the country, one of the world's poorest nations, under water.
The death toll, expected to rise further, confirms Nargis as the most devastating cyclone to hit Asia since 1991, when 143,000 people died in Bangladesh.
The military regime came under heavy fire Tuesday for failing to alert the people about the tropical cyclone and hindering the delivery of urgently needed international aid.
The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) said it had given neighboring Myanmar 48 hours' warning before the cyclone.
"Forty-eight hours before Nargis struck, we indicated its point of crossing (landfall), its severity and all related issues to Myanmarese agencies," IMD spokesman B.P. Yadav told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
The department is mandated by the United Nations World Meteorological Organization to track cyclones in the region.
"Our job is to give warnings and in advance, and we take pride in saying that we gave warnings much, much in advance and there was enough time to take precautionary measures such as evacuation," Yadav said.
US First Lady Laura Bush has accused the military regime of failing to take action to protect the remote part of the impoverished country from the storm.
"Although they were aware of the threat, Burma's state-run media failed to issue a timely warning to citizens in the storm's path," she said, referring to Myanmar by its former name.
International agencies, which are still waiting for visas to enter the country four days after the storm, said delivering aid to such a remote region would pose a major challenge.
Analysts expect a fallout for the military rulers, who pride themselves on their ability to cope with any challenge.
"The myth they have projected about being well-prepared has been totally blown away," analyst Aung Naing Oo, who fled to Thailand after a brutally crushed 1988 uprising, told Reuters.
"This could have a tremendous political impact in the long term."
Muslims make up nearly five percent of Myanmar's more than 50 million population.
The largest group of Myanmar Muslims is the ethnic-Bengali minority, generally known as the Rohingyas, who mainly live in the western state of Rakhine.
Less numbered are the Indian-descended Muslims who live in Yangon and ethnic-Chinese Muslims, known as the Panthay