Myanmar: The perfect storm

More than 4,000 people are dead after cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar last weekend. Cyclone Nargis, a Category 3 storm packed winds of 190 km (120 mile) per hour. It was the world’s deadliest storm in ten years. In 1999 a cyclone in South Asia killed more than 10,000 people.

Initial estimates put the casualty to only 350 people dead and 20,000 homes destroyed. But Myanmar’s state media reported that 4,000 people are already confirmed as dead. Almost 100,000 homes were destroyed. American Buddhist Net quotes Myanmar's foreign minister who said that the death toll could reach 10,000. Channel News Asia added 2,100 people are missing and that tens of thousands more could have perished in other regions.

The numbers could still go up. Art of Patience writes:

“With the Burmese junta's tradition of secrecy and control over the media, observers said the death toll could be higher and the government's announcement could be an under-estimate.”

Pictures and video clips of Myanmar’s devastated cities were uploaded in the following blogs: Fear from freedom, Myat Thura, Democratic Voice of Burma, and Rule of Lords.

Foreign aid is already arriving in Myanmar. But there are administrative problems. Please help Burma explains: “Teams of foreign aid workers who are trying to assess the damage are encountering difficulties because of military restrictions. Roads are also not accessible.” Muddy Notebook says “The junta’s secretiveness and wariness of outsiders may take an even bigger toll on the Burmese people.”

Burma News describes the situation in Myanmar a day before cyclone Nargis ripped through the country:

A local resident of Sittwe in Burma's coastal state of Arakan, said the weather in Sittwe is normal. He said there are no signs as of yet that the cyclone is approaching.

Situation in Ranong
A local resident in Ranong town on the Thai-Burmese border said, “At about 1 a.m. heavy storm and rain struck causing big waves in the sea. A few fishing boats sank and could not be found. Now it is 11 a.m. and the rain is still continuing.

Situation in Ngwe Saung beach
An official at the Rangoon head office of a toursit resort in Ngwe Saung said all telephone lines have been disconnected in the resort. An official at the Burmese Department of Meteorology and Hydrology said, “It is expected that the cyclone will cross the Higyi Island in north Irrawaddy division shortly. So, now it's almost noon and the cyclone must have passed by now. It is also predicted that slight rain will occur in Rangoon.”

Situation in Chaungthar
A worker at the Khaing Chaungthar resort in Chuangthar beach said, “So far, this morning the storm has not reached our place. We heard that it storm has hit Higyi Island. But as a precaution, we are not accepting any guests.

After information that a strong cyclone was approaching the Military Divisional Commander had ordered all resorts not to accept any guests.

Mizzima News gathers ground reports on the day cyclone Nargis was passing through Myanmar:

3 May 2008 16:30 – Burma Standard Time
As the devastating impact of Cyclone Nagris continues to mount, houses in Rangoon's Mingalar Taung Nyunt Township are reportedly collapsing.

A Local resident of Mingalar Taung Nyunt told Mizzima via telephone, “The wind was blowing heavily until about 10 a.m. this morning. Phone lines, including the GSM (mobile phones), were still working until about 9 a.m. this morning. But now everything is cut-off. We don't know the number of casualties as yet, and I think we will only find out later, maybe tomorrow. As the electricity is also out, we can't even watch the news on TV. We cannot listen to the radio or tune to MRTV.”

In the aftermath of the storm, as the rain has subsided, the momentous task of cleaning-up is reportedly being done by civilians without help from the government.

“Rangoon has been totally devastated.”
Update: 3 May 2008 14:10 – Burma Standard Time

People are running helter skelter with whatever belongings they can carry and stopping vehicles they see,” a resident told Mizzima.

“Rangoon has been totally devastated”, he said repeatedly.

One citizen journalist who attempted to travel outside of Rangoon was forced to turn around after a short distance. “I have never seen such devastation in my life,” he said

Reports reaching Rangoon further suggest there is extensive damage and devastation in Kyauk Tan Township.

State of Emergency declared in parts of Burma
Update: 3 May 2008 12:55 – Burma Standard Time

The Burmese government has announced a ‘State of Emergency’ in many parts of the country after cyclone Nagirs lashed Burma late on Friday night. The state-owned media declared that Rangoon Division, Pegu Division, Mon State, Karen State and Irrawaddy Division have been brought under a ‘state of emergency’. The announcement was made by the Secretary of State Peace and Development Council Lit-Gen Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo a few minutes ago.

Situation in Hle Dan, Rangoon
Strong winds continue to sweep the city and window panes of apartments have cracked or broken. The electricity supply has been cut off, a resident of Hle Dan in Rangoon told Mizzima.

“There are no civic workers in sight to clear the streets of debris. The rain has slackened now,” she said. The first reports of casualty have come in from Da La Township in Rangoon division with three women having drowned when the ferry they were travelling, in while crossing the river towards Da La, sank. The authorities have stopped ferry crossings since yesterday evening.

Heavy Rains in Pha An, Karen State
Update: 3 May 2008 12:00 – Burma Standard Time

Due to cyclone Nargis, there have been heavy rains and stongs winds in Pha An in Karen State of Burma. “People dare not to go out on the streets”, said a resident.

A Rangoon resident:
Update: 3 May 2008 10:30 – Burma Standard Time

“I think all the TV satellite receivers have been destroyed. Zinc roofs are scattered on the streets”

“No one is on the streets. Even no dog”

“Rains were pouring horizontally and it was like steam coming off the hot boiling water pot”

“Since roofs were ripped off, people have to stay inside their houses with doors locked and chained”

“We did not expect this much bad. So, we did not store food and now we are having problems with food”

Trees uprooted, electric poles flattened in Rangoon
Update: 3 May 2008 09:029 – Burma Standard Time

Reports of damages due to cyclone Nargis have been slowly emerging from Rangoon. Trees near Han Thar Wa Di circle in the city are uprooted and lying on the streets. Hoardings and sign boards are destroyed. “The strong winds are still there. I dare not to go out. The municipal department cannot still do anything”, a Rangoon resident told Mizzima.

In several places, roofs of houses were ripped off and electricity poles were uprooted.

Nargis hit Rangoon
Update: 3 May 2008 09:00 – Burma Standard Time

The Nargis cyclone has hit Burma's Rangoon since last mid night and reports coming from Rangoon suggest that the cyclone is still in full strength in and around former Capital. The telephone lines and electricity in Rangoon are cut. A resident that Mizzima was able to contact said he thinks this is the severest cyclone in the country's history. There have been loud noises in the city and zinc roof tiles crisscrossed the city and trees uprooted, he added.

A resident in Sanchaung township said “the sky is read” now and “roof sheets were flying”

Bangkok Pundit posts important questions:

“Will the referendum be delayed? That people have no food or water is surely not a great enough impediment for the Burmese government to be concerned about? What will this do to the rice price?”

The constitutional referendum he was referring to is scheduled to take place in a few days. Before the arrival of the cyclone, the referendum was the most talked-about issue in Myanmar. Agam's Gecko believes the referendum will be postponed:

“The severe cyclone that just plowed through Rangoon is showing up the complete ineptitude of Burma's military rulers. The junta appears to be totally paralyzed. The disaster comes only a few days before their sham constitutional referendum. Will it go ahead, in the wake of all this death and destruction? State-run media says yes; I doubt it. In a country run by a deeply superstitious old loon like Than Shwe, Cyclone Nargis is the worst possible bad omen. It's almost as if the gods have sent it to stop their folly, since nothing else is working.”

Jotman on the impact of the cyclone on the global food crisis:

Cyclone Nagris devastated the major rice-producing region of Burma, the Irrawaddy Delta, home to 3.5 million people…This disaster could not have come at a worse time for Burma and the world; the effects of Cyclone Nagris may be felt far beyond the shores of Burma. Because if the Burmese people are to be fed, the food may have to come from somewhere else. It is conceivable that the cyclone will drive up rice and food prices worldwide, and exacerbate global shortages.”


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  • dk shilshi

    the nargis.

    it is unfortunate that thousands of lives is lost forget about the properties and goods being destroyed, by the nargis in Myanmar.

    the people said that government have not warn them of the impending danger. I wonder if the military government knows it them self or where also caught by surprise.

    what about the other neighboring countries. in an advance country people are alway warn well on time and the evacuation executed to a safer places.

    the outer space being congested with satellites, was it not noticed by any country ? it they do, have they not have the moral responsibility to warn Myanmar?

    it should have been the best justice realized, on the part of advance countries towards the developing or poor nations- but they have not rise to the occasion. it is absolute absence of humane.

  • stooge

    The above post brings up some excellent questions, who knew about this cyclone, and whom was told in advance. There is not an acre of land on the entire planet that someone, somewhere is not watching at all times. If it comes out in the aftermath that the Burmese government knew of the disaster beforehand and did nothing, will they be tried in World Court? Will they be held responsible for anything?

  • I read about this in New York Post’s breaking news section and the death toll is apparently well past 22,000! 41,000 are still missing too which means that the 22,000 number will probably be a lot higher.

    That is a good question about whether or not the military was aware of the cyclone. I think it would be dependent on how many of the military was effected by the cyclone. If no one was injured by it, you probabloy can make the assumption that the military knew in advance about it, but if there were many military deaths related to the cyclone then they probably were not aware.

  • I echo the sentiments provided in above comments.

    Cyclone Nargis is a Category 3 storm packed winds of 190 km (120 mile) per hour. However BBC quoted a wrong info that It was the world’s deadliest storm in ten years. Only last November (2007) The hurricane Sidr made a downfall in Southern Bangladesh – it was a Category-4 equivalent tropical cyclone with 215 km/h wind speed and water surge of Tidal waves reaching up to a height of 3 metres (9.8 ft) were reported. (

    It may be noted that Bangladesh did prepare a lot for SIDR. A total of 2 million people in Bangladesh evacuated to emergency shelters. Otherwise the death toll would be catastrophic. Most of those who were dead defied the warnings and stayed home. The after cyclone relief and rescue operations were also swift. Over 40,000 Red Cross volunteers were deployed to order residents in the 15 affected provinces into special cyclone and flood shelters. In contrast to the Burmese situation, The Bangladeshi military forces played a significant role in providing helicopters and boats to reach to remote locations and of course helping in relief and rescue.

    What did the Burmese Government do to protect its people? Eyewitnesses say that even no forces were seen to help cleanup the debris in the capital.

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