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Myanmar: Twittering the cyclone disaster

Burmese bloggers have been using Twitter to give updates and reports about the situation in Myanmar. More than a week has passed since a powerful cyclone hit the country which claimed the lives of more than 30,000 people (government data) and left hundreds of thousands homeless. The Twitter account: MBS or Myanmar Blogs, provides useful links to recent news articles and blog posts about the relief efforts, donation information details and other eyewitness accounts of the continuing tragedy in Myanmar.

Through this Twitter account, we learned these updates:

Burmese journalists face restrictions on cyclone coverage as authorities have placed restrictions on journalists covering the disaster areas.

Burmese junta forcing storm victims to leave monasteries, separating families.

Cyclone death toll is rising

An interesting campaign: Project Nargis – Using internet to check weather report step by step. (in Burmese)

Twitter updates have led us to visit these blogs:

Myanmar News uploads an interview about the situation in some refugee camps:

“I can see many refugees and there are many camps. Our house provided medicines and the like as much as we could, but not sufficient. Many people are still streaming in. The number of people who can donate and the number of people in town are so unbalanced. Last night I asked the driver of the district authority chairman, how many refugees are there, I asked. He told me that there are 10,000, but my estimation is, it must be more than that. He told me that materials for support have arrived. But, he said, there are people who went to the sea to make a living and they suffered. These people are also among the refugees. These people will be questioned and turned back, and only those who are genuine refugees will be given the support. They will be checked. Only when they think that they are true refugees, would they be given support, he said.”

Burmese Gold Bull writes about the (unintended) consequence of the earthquake in China which is now the focus of mainstream media:

“I felt heartbroken for the survivors and victims of China's earthquake especially because I just witnessed the destruction power of natural disaster beforehand in my country.

“In my opinion this earth quake in China is a severe blow to Myanmar, not just to China. Now that there is a natural disaster in bigger and stronger in China, Burma will have to share the media attention it has been receiving, with China. The consequence of this China earthquake will be that the plight of my country's cyclone survivors will once again fall into the obscurity.

“But I would like to take this opportunity to contrast the two government's responses towards these tragedies.”

This narrative of A glimpse of my life deserves to be quoted at length:

My experience with Nargis
There had already been warnings of the cyclone Nargis lurking around the coast since the end of April, but I had thought that it won't come our way because in my life time, a cyclone had never reached us in Yangon. Previously, most of the storms that occured in the Bay of Bengal mostly went into Bangladesh or India, or sometimes, into the coast of Rakhine.

“On May 2nd, we got news that the storm was heading directly into Yangon, so the employees were released to go back home early at 2pm. Even at that time, I was planning to stay until office hour was over because looking outside, the sun was still shining. But later, after being urged by friends online to go back home early, I went back home. When I got home, electricity was still on, so we opened TV, and on MRTV 3, there was a news flash scrolling, saying that the storm had passed Hi-gyi Island and is on its way towards Ayeyarwaddy, Yangon, Bago, and Mon States. The radio station was also broadcasting warnings of this. Electricity was cut off at 6:30pm according to ration schedule, so we just sit around with emergency lights. It had started raining, but it was not very windy yet. So I went to bed around 9pm. I hardly ever wish anything whenever I prayed, but that night, I prayed that the storm will not cause many casualties. I wasn't able to fall asleep quickly, because of the noises of the rain falling on the roof.

“When I woke up, it was around 2:30am, and the wind was howling now. I can hear noises on the roof, and I was afraid that the roof, even though it's one of those big one-piece roofs that cover the whole house, will fly away with the wind. So I got my pillow and a blanket and went into the living room and found my mom and my cousin sitting on the seats with a candle lit. They couldn't sleep either, I guess. My father was praying in the shrine room, and my brother was awake too. It wasn't raining heavily at that time, but there was very strong wind. I can hear the next door house's windows slamming shut and open again (no one was at home) and hear shattering sounds – the charms and the decorative lamps on that house falling down on the ground, and some windows breaking. Even though I thought I had closed my room's window tightly, I guess it wasn't, cos it flew open and slammed the walls and back again, and 3 glass panes shattered. So we had to tie the windows with the ropes to be sure they were closed. We just sat on the chairs in the living room, wrapping our blankets around us to keep out the mosquitoes, and tried to get some sleep. I think I got some sleep for about an hour until I woke up again around 5am.

“By that time, it was already getting light outside, so we can see the trees and everything, all moving around like it's going to fall any moment. It looks more scary since we can see with our eyes now. We looked outside and saw that the make-shift water-proof roof of the restaurant near our house had collapsed. The night-watch stand had flipped over (though I could have sworn I heard 3 chimes from there at 3am – maybe the watchman had run away later). The tall coconut trees were swaying left and right so dangerously, but none had fallen over. Even amidst all this wind and chaos, there were people outside, wearing raincoats and umbrellas, picking mangoes and jack-fruits from the streets. Electricity had been cut ever since it started raining, thank god, because the electric poles had bent and the cables were hanging on the road. It started raining heavily and the wind was howling, and my brother's room was leaking from the windows, so I had to help him soak up the water from the floor and wring it out into a bucket. I was praying for either the wind or the rain to stop because we were getting tired of wringing out the water. Around 10am, the heavy rain stopped, and was just falling, and it wasn't so windy anymore, so we were able to leave my brother's room, and tend to other parts of the house and dry them up.

“The wind and the rain stopped at around 2pm, I think, I'm not sure about the time anymore. Soon, people started coming out and look around in the neighborhood. The trees that have been on our street ever since we were young – the two big star-flower trees where we always picked the flowers that fell onto the ground – had been uprooted. The road was blocked by one of this tree, and another tree, and people were already cutting the tree to pieces so that a car or two can pass. Already, the people were lining up in front of the shops that sell those aluminum sheets that you cover the roof with.

“All around Yangon, there were shortage of water since the water supplies had been cut off, and those who have wells, they have to use a water-pump, but no electricity. So some went to Inya Lake to get water, and bathed there. Our house has a small well, so we can carry water with a pail. Actually, most of the houses on our road had their own wells, since municipal water was unreliable (since our pipes always got stolen by other houses) so water was not a problem for us. And some of the monasteries let people come and bathe there and carry water.

“On Monday, I went to work because I was called to come the night before. Thankfully, there was some buses running, and it cost 300 Ks. ( the bus ran from Sule to North Dagon Township) Our office was all wet because it was located in a high-rise building, and there was windows, and the water seeped in from the cracks. But luckily, our PC towers were on the floor, but on top of some styrofoam, so they didn't get wet. So we unhooked all the pc's, put them on the desks, and get to work. The building had no electricity but the generators operated, and we opened the air-conditioning, so the floor dried quickly. After eating lunch, we were dismissed, and told that we will be informed when we should come back to work. At that time, they were running the generators for only a short time (until 11:30am) because diesel was getting expensive: about 10,000 ks. ($10) per gallon on the black market, since the gas stations were closed down and were not distributing.

“My birthday was on May 8th. Previously, I had planned to make a BBQ party at my home on May 11. But when the time arrived, I was in no mood to celebrate. Already, I was hearing about the news and devastation in other parts of Ayeyarwaddy, and it made me felt so sad that so many innocent people had to suffer. I was angry at the merchants for raising the prices. I was angry at the government for not accepting the aids yet. My problems and most of Yangon's citizens problems were petty comparing to those storm-hit areas in Ayeyarwaddy Township.

“My parents say that they have never faced a storm such fierce before in Yangon. Heck.. not even a 90-year old person had experienced it. That's one of the reasons why we were not prepared for it, taking it lightly. And also due to not very accurate weather forecasts. Yeah, sure, the storm warnings were posted since April 29, but exactly where it will hit – they did not say. I hope that they've learned their lessons by now too.”

My Little World uploads a poem

Burma's Non-Political Flood
Thu I Sann

Water, water, all around me
But I am so..so… thirsty.
Here, there, human bodies’ everywhere
But none alive accompany me and share.
And I look at myself
Broken hopes and empty handed.
And I look further around
Just like a post heavy-battled ground.
Wild cyclone has wiped all things down.

Where are those kids from innocent playground?
Where are students in the green and white uniform?
Where is my town always singing along country rock songs?
Where are my mates who search for freedom and independent?
Where are those local chicks with new-leaf-color lips?
Where are those parents with a too busy habit?
All my questions disappear,
All my answers whisper…and whisperer.

Collaborated disaster of the nature and the dictator!
And I constantly hear voices from my empty stomach
Asking me food, forcing me speak out and stand up.
I silently speak with my loudest, to the entire world
Then mankind's sympathies come and knock my door.

Let me now open my door
‘Cause those sympathies will help to fix my wounded floor.
Let me invite them with an open heart
‘Cause those sympathies will help my life reconstruct.

Hello Mr. militarists,
Your guns are currently useless,
My demands are urgently needed,
Here, I'm alive, not a corpse yet,
Neither much time left.
Together, let's work out as a nice diplomat!

(Dedicated To My Mother And People Of Burma Who Lost Lives And Who Hardly Survived Under Both Natural And Political Weathers!)

More photos of the disaster, images on the ground and documentation of relief efforts. A survivor from Lubutta captured on video. Another survivor tells her story through a video.

Meanwhile, an online petition requesting the United Nations to apply “responsibility to protect” doctrine to force international aid into Myanmar has generated more than 4,000 signatures.

Global Voices – Myanmar also has a Twitter account.

20 comments

  • Isn’t this essentially what the generals in Naypyidaw have been saying to the people of their country and the world — for the past 10 days? That Myanmar will rely on itself first, so bugger off with your outside aid. Hence, the words sounded jarring to my ears.

  • No, if you think I suppose Burma should refuse aid from outside, that’s not what I mean.
    If my words confuse you, sorry for that.
    Even in this time the earthquake in my country I agree that international aid should be permitted into Si-chuan, where it’s said that significant militay facility locate.
    And I am sure Burma, lacking sufficiant self-help force and more in need, should have all the best for the rescue.

  • Hi Bob,

    Thanks for clearing up my confusion. Let’s do whatever we can to help the catastrophe victims in both countries — as there is no time to lose.

  • It’s allways more interesting to me to read personal stories from these disasters instead of mainstream news.

    It gives you a sense of what the impact is for a family – just like my own.

    I think of both you and China and wonder if this is related to climate change, and how many of these disasters we need before the governments around the world starts to react as one – and take care of this huge problem – causing more and more casualties – especially children

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