NOAH ADAMS, host:
And earlier today, we spoke with the representative of an aid organization who had just returned from the Irrawaddy Delta; that's the area most devastated by the cyclone. He is Amos Avgar, and he works with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee; we reached him in Bangkok. He told me he had arrived in Myanmar last Thursday.
MR. AMOS AVGAR (International Development Program of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee): From the airport to the hotel, it was pitch dark. Trees of hundreds of years old turned over; the electricity posts were all knocked down. And from the airport, I went straight to the hotel.
ADAMS: So you understood you had to get out to the countryside, you wanted to do that. How did you arrange for that transportation, what happened?
Mr. AVGAR: On Sunday morning, I was accompanied by a local person,and we traveled to the town of Labutta, which is in the southern part of the delta. The town was virtually totally devastated. The buildings are - the majority of them were either huts made out of straw and bamboo or made out of wood, which were virtually all of them destroyed. The roofs were all torn away. And as we came in, the monsoon has already begun so it began to pour. So really, the people had absolutely no place to go and hide from the new rain.
ADAMS: And were you seeing bodies at that point?
Mr. AVGAR: At that point, I didn't see bodies. On the way back, on the bank of the river, there were still bodies lying down. But I would rather not talk about it.
ADAMS: And were you able to talk to people there in Labutta?
Mr. AVGAR: Yes. The people were saying, number one, they were saying that they thank God and Buddha for being saved from this terrible disaster. I interviewed a mother who was still looking for her child. Another person was saying that all her relatives in the nearby villages were all totally washed away. The point is, they were all calm. There was no panic in the streets, there was no screaming. They were extremely happy that somebody from the outside is coming to see what they are. They all invited me to what used to be their homes.
And what's interesting is that they are now pulling themselves together in those remote areas where they know that help will probably not come quickly. And you can see them, and I have pictures of that, how they are already building again, hoping that they will be able to go back to harvest the crops. But I must tell you that in most of these areas, the fields were washed away, which will make it even more difficult to survive afterwards.
ADAMS: And what evidence of aid and supplies reaching these people did you see? Had any help come to them?
Mr. AVGAR: I traveled for about 22 hours to and back from Yangon. There were some army trucks driving down in some lories with provisions. But it was not massive. I hope that in the next few days, the convoys will be much more massive than they are. And what we are doing now is we are sending in food, medicine, tents and clothing to the people in the delta region, and what we have found was that the people who are working in there are all local Burmese people. They developed their own structures. And I hope that one of the areas we'll continue to work in is to develop local groups, empower them to have more say in their community development.
ADAMS: Mr. Avgar, I must say that you have more optimism in your voice and in what you are telling us than in the other reports we've been hearing from Myanmar since the cyclone.
Mr. AVGAR: Well, number one, you know, after being 2000 years in exile, we are more optimists than pessimists. I believe that due to the huge calamity that occurred and to the enormous need that exists, there will have to be a change in policy and that foreigners will be able to go in and provide the assistance that is needed. Otherwise, there will be a tremendous second catastrophe, number one because of the epidemics that come about, and because we are warned there's additional cyclones that may hit the region.
ADAMS: We've been talking with Amos Avgar. He's the executive director of the International Development Program of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. He spoke with us from Bangkok, Thailand. Thank you, Mr. Avgar.
Mr. AVGAR: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.