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Myanmar cyclone toll: at least 140 dead

Aid workers said Friday that a cyclone that swept through western Myanmar earlier this month left at least 140 people dead and 18,000 people homeless.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A cyclone that swept through western Myanmar left at least 140 people dead and 18,000 people homeless, U.N. agencies said Friday.

UNICEF — the United Nations Children’s Fund — said the May 19 storm, with winds of up to 105 mph, was the worst to hit the area since 1968.

The cyclone devastated Myanmar’s Rakhine State, several hundred miles northwest of the capital, Yangon, UNICEF said in statement issued by its office in Geneva.

It said it could not confirm the total number of people affected by the storm, which formed over the Bay of Bengal and crossed Myanmar’s southwest coast near the border with Bangladesh, causing tidal surges and flooding.

But the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, another U.N. agency, said 140 people were killed and seven were missing.

The New York-headquartered UNICEF said at least 2,650 homes were destroyed, with another 1,385 reported to be severely damaged, leaving approximately 18,000 people temporarily homeless in the poor and remote area.

“Reports indicate that many of these families cannot afford to rebuild their bamboo homes,” it said.

Tun Lwin, director of Myanmar’s state meteorological department, confirmed details of the storm to The Associated Press, but declined to talk about casualties or damages, which he said were the responsibility of the Ministry of Social Welfare and Resettlement.

The U.N. agencies said the storm knocked out telephone services and electricity supplies, and damaged other essential infrastructure, such as piers.

Many hospitals and health centers were also badly damaged by the storm, they added.

A potential health hazard was water sources which had become polluted by flood waters.

UNICEF said, however, that initial reports indicated Myanmar authorities “may be chlorinating water sources and utilizing public address systems to educate people in affected areas about means of preventing the outbreak of diseases such as diarrhea.”

Still unknown, according to UNICEF, was the number of casualties from at least 84 ships lost at sea, and an ocean liner which ran aground and sank near the Sittway jetty.

UNICEF said the Myanmar government had requested relief assistance in the form of food, medicines, clothing and materials for temporary shelters.