Cyclone Toll Feared above 100,000; Burma Blocks Aid; Workers Await Visas

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 8, 2008 | Go to article overview
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Cyclone Toll Feared above 100,000; Burma Blocks Aid; Workers Await Visas


Byline: Betsy Pisik, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

NEW YORK - With the death toll expected to top 100,000, Burma's military government blocked international aid workers from delivering relief supplies yesterday as bodies floated in stagnant waters left behind by Saturday's cyclone.

The United Nations said its workers based outside Burma had not received a single visa and that Burmese officials were demanding that official escorts accompany all foreigners.

Foreign workers based inside Burma for U.N. agencies such as the World Food Program also had not received permission to travel through the hard-hit Irrawaddy Delta, where entire villages remained submerged.

Tin Win, the military leader of a ward in the town of Labutta, said dozens of villages in the hard-hit district, also named Labutta, have been wiped out by Cyclone Nargis, which lashed the southeast coastline with winds of up to 120 miles an hour.

"So far, the estimated death toll in those villages is about 80,000," he told Agence France-Presse today.

Some survivors stripped clothes off the dead. People wailed as they described the horror of the torrent swept ashore by the cyclone, which appears certain to become one of the top 10 natural disasters of the past 100 years.

"I don't know what happened to my wife and young children," Phan Maung, 55, told the Associated Press. He held on to a coconut tree until the water level dropped. By then, his family was gone.

A spokesman for the U.N. Children's Fund said its staff in Burma reported seeing many people huddled in crude shelters and children who had lost their parents. As many as 1 million Burmese have been made homeless by Nargis.

The senior U.S. diplomat in the country, Shari Villarosa, told reporters by telephone that the situation is "horrendous" and that the death toll could top 100,000. She said she was citing an estimate of one international relief organization, which she declined to name.

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

Some international aid made it into the country. But reports of convoys loaded with tons of supplies held up at border crossings and U.S. Navy ships waiting offshore for permission to deliver food, drinking water and medicine prompted warnings of a tragedy rivaling the December 2004 tsunami.

"We are deeply concerned about the growing humanitarian crisis in Burma," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in Washington.

"We know that there are many, many, many people who need the help of the international community. ... There are millions and millions of dollars waiting to be delivered that can help the Burmese people to get through this difficult time

"There are assistance teams, including an American assistance team that would be ready to help the people of Burma. And what remains is for the Burmese government to allow the international community to help its people."

The United States has about $3 million in relief anchored offshore ready to deliver once it has permission from Burma's military junta, one of the world's most repressive governments.

Aid agencies with local staff have been schlepping emergency supplies to submerged coastal areas by boat and on foot.

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