At least 351 people were killed and nearly 100,000 left homeless when Tropical Cyclone Nargis tore through Myanmar, razing thousands of buildings and knocking out power lines, state media said yesterday.
Residents awoke yesterday to scenes of devastation after the cyclone bore through swathes of southern Myanmar late on Friday and Saturday, uprooting trees, cutting phone lines and water pipes, and clogging streets with debris.
Myanmar’s state channel MRTV said on their evening news broadcast yesterday that 109 people had been killed in Haing Gyi island, just off the coast of southwestern Ayeyawaddy division where the storm first hit.
One person was killed in Nyaung Done, a township also in Ayeyawaddy, the channel reported.
An information ministry official and state media had already reported that another 222 people had died in Ayeyawaddy, while 19 others were killed in Yangon.
The authorities have declared disaster zones in the regions of Yangon, Ayeyawaddy, Bago, Mon and Karen states.
MRTV said that about 20,000 houses have been destroyed on Haing Gyi island, and 92,706 people there were now homeless.
In one mainland township in Ayeyawaddy, 75 percent of all homes were believed to be destroyed, the channel said, adding that authorities had launched a rescue operation in the region.
Nargis made landfall late on Friday around the mouth of the Ayeyawaddy (Irrawaddy) river, about 220km southwest of Yangon, before hitting Yangon.
Electricity supplies and telecommunications in Yangon have been cut since late on Friday night as the storm bore down from the Bay of Bengal, packing winds of 190kph to 240kph.
The coastal area of Ayeyawaddy appears worst hit by the natural disaster, but Yangon was also battered. Traffic lights, billboards and street lamps littered the roads after being knocked over by strong winds.
Trees in the leafy city were uprooted, crushing buildings and cars, while water pipes were also cut, forcing people out onto the streets with buckets to try and buy water from the few shops that remained open.
Roofs of houses have been torn away, while only a few taxis and buses — which tripled their fares — braved the debris-clogged streets yesterday.
The information ministry official said seven empty boats had sunk in the country’s main port, while Yangon’s international airport was closed.
State media said the airport was due to reopen today.
There are also fears that the poorer outlying areas of Yangon, with their flimsy houses, might have been hard hit.
“A tea shop owner told me that many people in a Yangon suburb need urgent help for food and accommodation,” one food vendor said. “Some children are not even wearing clothes.”
Foreign aid workers, whose movements are restricted by the ruling military junta, had not managed to reach many impoverished areas to assess the impact.
“I have never seen anything like it,” one retired government worker said. “It reminded me of when hurricane Katrina hit the United States.”