Survivors, Workers Look Back on Myanmar Cyclone

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It's been more than a month since a cyclone ravaged Myanmar and killed 78,000 people, leaving another 56,000 missing. The United Nations says that to date, relief aid has reached only half of the more than 2 million survivors. Aid workers and survivors describe the disaster and conditions since Cyclone Nargis.


It's been more than a month since a cyclone ravaged Myanmar and killed at least 78,000 people and left another 56,000 missing. United Nations says relief aid has reached only half of the more than two million survivors. NPR's Doualy Xaykaothao has this report now about some of those survivors, and what's ahead for them.

DOUALY XAYKAOTHAO: The full impact of Cyclone Nargis is still unknown. Comprehensive assessments are difficult because the Myanmar junta still restricts access to remote villages badly affected by the storm. Humanitarian-aid agencies say more expertise is needed to respond effectively to this natural disaster. There are 40 to 50 makeshift camps across the Irrawaddy Delta region, where most of the dead once lived. This Burmese boy survived and now lives in a camp run by UNICEF, which did not identify the boy.

Unidentified Child (Cyclone Survivor): (Through translator) When the water rose and came into my house, my mother, my younger sister, and myself fell into the water. We were holding hands very firmly, but the wind and the rain were so strong, and it was dark, as well. I lost my mother's hands. My sister and myself waited on a tree by holding that tree. Next morning, when the storm stopped, we were taken onto a boat and raced to the camp that I'm staying now.

XAYKAOTHAO: In Yangon, Myanmar's largest city, Steve Marshall of The International Labour Organization felt the pull of the 120-mile-per-hour winds outside his windows.

Mr. STEVE MARSHALL (Senior Official, International Labour Organization): It was just an amazingly frightening experience. And when you came out of your home the next morning, very few houses had any roofs left. Every tree of any size was gone, was flat, bang. Every telephone pole, broken and down. All of the electricity lines down because of winds. The pure power of that cyclone was incredible. An absolute devastation.

XAYKAOTHAO: The Myanmar junta does not want the outside world to see the devastated villages in the delta. But a reporter, we're withholding her name for her protection, traveled to the devastated villages one week after the cyclone hit.

Unidentified Woman: It was very hot in the morning as we were going out, and sometime in the afternoon, when we reached the village, it just poured like mad, you know. And the whole place was muddy, and you had, you know, the rice fields were just inundated. It was flooded.

I mean, it was so visual seeing the pagoda destroyed and sunken in the cemetery, and just walking into a village that was so quiet. You could just hear the splash, splash, splash of the people walking silently.

XAYKAOTHAO: The rain was relentless, making an already cruel situation even more depressing.

Unidentified Woman: As we were leaving this town, and, you know, the people were behind us. So they were all lined up along the road, and the sky, it was just an overcast sky. It made you feel like there was some kind of - it was a doomsday kind of thing. And then rain just poured like that. It highlighted the misery of the people. It was like, just so stark - black clouds and people lining up on the road and waiting for food. That I remember.

XAYKAOTHAO: Emergency aid is now reaching tens of thousands of hungry people. Anupama Rao Singh, the regional head of UNICEF in East Asia, toured the delta region. She visited several camps filled with blue tents and asked survivors how they are coping. She spoke with the mother of five children, the eldest being 12 years old, the youngest two.

Ms. ANUPAMA RAO SINGH (Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific, UNICEF): And I asked her where her husband was, and whether they were all of the family was together. She said her husband was a fisherman by occupation, and she said I have not been able to establish contact with him. You know, I wish her the best, but it's probably likelihood that the husband has not survived.

XAYKAOTHAO: Singh asked the mother what she will do for a living when she returns to her destroyed village.

Ms. SINGH: And she said, I think I'll try and cultivate some vegetables in the patch of land that I have and try and sell it in the local market, and hopefully, I'll be able to make a living.

XAYKAOTHAO: There are signs that people are slowly recovering, says Jon Mitchell, the emergency response director of Care International. He was in Myanmar this week on a four-day visit.

Mr. JONATHAN MITCHELL (Emergency Response Director, CARE International): What's remarkable, as you go around the delta, is you see people have rebuilt their houses. Now, these were simple houses in the first place, but they have picked up whatever they could find from the debris of the storm and put together simple wood-frame houses, normally with grass and with palm fronds for the roofs. They're also cleaning up their water ponds, which is where they get water to drink and water for other purposes, as well.

XAYKAOTHAO: Mitchell said the people of Myanmar are strong and self-reliant.

Mr. MITCHELL: Yes, they might be able to go and find, you know, some coconuts. They might be able to walk to the nearest town to find some assistance there. But this is not the way that we should expect people to have to deal with the situation after a major emergency like this.

XAYKAOTHAO: The people have really lost everything, he said. But they will find ways to survive, one way or another. Doualy Xaykaothao, NPR News.

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