May 7, 2008 (AFP)-Tens of thousands of shocked survivors of Burma’s cyclone are flocking to Labutta, trekking through floodwaters littered with bloated bodies, an AFP reporter said Wednesday.
The town of Labutta, the centre of a community of 90,000 people before Saturday’s disaster, is itself devastated, with virtually no food or fresh water, and residents are sharing meagre supplies of wild rice with the new arrivals.
Labutta, at the mouth of the Irrawaddy river delta which bore the brunt of Cyclone Nargis’s fury, was completely submerged as waters soared more than six metres (20 feet) high, covering even the tops of trees, residents told AFP.
"The people have no emotion left on their faces. They have never seen anything like this before," one witness told AFP of the desperate survivors arriving here from surrounding villages that were totally wiped out.
"They have lost their families, they have nowhere to stay, and they have nothing to eat. They don’t know what the future will bring," he said.
Around the town, blackened bodies of people and animals, already rotting in the intense tropical heat, washed up to roadsides as floodwaters receded.
The smell of death hung so heavily over the town that people covered their faces with layers of cloth and balm to mask the stench.
More than 22,000 people were killed and nearly twice as many remain missing since the storm hit, with most of the victims in the delta region, according to the military government.
"We can’t sleep at night, because we can hear people shouting at night. Maybe these are the ghosts of the villagers," another resident told AFP.
Burmese authorities have yet to set up any emergency shelters for the people, residents said.
One man told AFP that the military had sent a ship to rescue stranded villagers, but that it is now stuck near Labutta after it ran out of fuel.
The UN’s children’s fund UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the Christian relief group World Vision have arrived in the town, but so far have only delivered water purification tablets, residents said.
"We need emergency rescuers," a local doctor told AFP, adding that residents are already suffering from diarrhoea because of the dire sanitary conditions.
Some survivors appeared to have suffered chemical burns during the storm, but the lack of food and clean water posed the greatest threat to the town.
Survivors were scavenging for coconuts, whose milk is the only clean fluid left in the town.
"Thousands of people are in a difficult situation. They need emergency assistance. They are waiting for assistance, for food and shelter. Their main concern is the food," one man said of the survivors trekking in from the countryside.