Thu, May 08, 2008 - Page 5 News List

People scramble to survive in Nargis’ wake

TOTALLY DESTROYEDFew were prepared as officials said the cyclone would hit further north. Now the search is on for food, water and shelter

AGENCIES , YANGON

Yangon residents try to fill their buckets with water yesterday after Cyclone Nargis cut power and water supplies to wide swathes of Myanmar over the weekend.

PHOTO: AP

Having survived the cyclone, the struggle now is for survival. First there is the scramble for fresh water, with long lines all over Yangon to buy it by the bucketload at three times the price that it was before Cyclone Nargis.

Then there is the hunt for shelter among the debris in a city where more homes are now without roofs than with them, and as desperation grows, there are reports of looting in some markets.

Huge lines snake from those gasoline stations still functioning. Fuel has doubled in price.

In Shwe Pauk Kan township in Yangon most of the houses have been largely or totally destroyed. People are crammed into the few remaining large buildings, including a school housing 600 children, 450 women and 250 men.

The head, U Maung Maung Aye, opened it to anyone who could make it. He shows off a well and a small generator allowing clean water to be pumped. But without assistance, he said, he didn’t know how long he could feed people.

“I have 1,300 refugees who have lost their homes and have nothing left and needed a place to sleep, gather their small belongings, and a place to dry them. I am providing them with two meals out of the generosity of donors. I have two pregnant ladies and they are soon due,” he said.

Few were prepared for what happened. The authorities said the cyclone would hit much further north but as the rains intensified, the meteorological department warned that it was changing course and heading for Yangon.

Despite the warning, most people went to bed with little idea of what to expect. By midnight on Friday the 200kph winds were whipping Yangon as the cyclone began its crawl through the city. It was not only the power of the storm that terrified; its staying power was deadly.

It felt like it went on for ever.By Saturday afternoon, when the wind and rain had finally stopped, Yangon was a wreck. 100-year-old trees had been uprooted, lampposts twisted, electricity poles snapped.

The once green city and its magnificent banian and teak trees and mangoes were gone for good. The landscape had been transformed into an unrecognizable gray mess.

Only on Sunday did the police, fire brigade and military start clearing the main roads. Equipped with machetes and small saws, their task looked almost impossible.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Buddhist monks have picked up axes to help residents clear trees and debris, as the nation’s 400,000-strong military is criticized for only belatedly joining the relief effort.

Chunks of roof ripped off homes lie on the pavements, draped by downed power lines.

“We are now relying on monks to clear this road,” said one middle-aged woman who lives in a neighborhood in western Yangon, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal from the government.

“Of course we were hoping the authorities would come, but they haven’t shown up yet. These monks came after the storm to help the people to clear the streets and to remove the trees,” she said.

Witnesses say few soldiers or police joined the relief effort, while one embassy worker said there was anger at the slowness of the official response.

“We didn’t see any military at all, just police in armored cars. On Saturday afternoon, we did see some vans, but most of the guys were standing around smoking,” said 32-year-old Pip Paton, who was traveling in Yangon with her family when the cyclone struck.

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