Cyclone deaths top 100 as US pledges aid

The death toll from cyclone Giri in western Burma has topped 100, relief workers say with many more still missing.

Some 80 bodies have been found in Myebon town in Arakan state, where hundreds of buildings were destroyed as the powerful cyclone made landfall on 22 October.

Many people remain missing in Myebon, said Aye Zaw Maung from the Rakhine [Arakan] Thahaya group, which has been carrying out relief work in the area. “I heard from my [colleagues] in Myebon that around 80 bodies were found there.”

The cyclone also laid waste to a number of small islands in the Bay of Bengal – Byanepike, Ngamanye, Phayonga and Kyuntharyar were hit hard, and at least 10 people in the Payonga archipelago were killed by a tidal surge.

A further 30 people remain missing in Seittaya village in Myebon township, according to Dr Aye Maung of the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP), which is campaigning locally for the 7 November elections. The RNDP have called for the vote to be delayed in Arakan state until the area recovers from the cyclone.

In Kyaukphyu town, about 50 miles south of Myebon, around 70 percent of buildings were flattened, according to local sources. The number of casualties there remains unknown.

The US has pledged aid to the victims of the cyclone, but it is not yet known whether that has been accepted by the Burmese junta, which infamously refused offers of international aid in the immediate aftermath of cyclone Nargis in May 2008. That disaster eventually claimed some 140,000 lives in Burma’s southern Irrawaddy delta, although the 160mph landfall windspeed for cyclone Giri was estimated to be stronger.

US state department spokesperson Phillip Crowley said yesterday that Washington had made the “same offer once again [as in 2008], depending on the impact of the cyclone”, but added that he was “not aware that they’ve [junta] accepted or responded at this point”.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Burmese people and all those affected by this tragedy…We will offer additional assistance as needed”.

According to the UN, 70,795 people have been left homeless in the wake of the cyclone, with around 175,000 thought to have been affected.

A report released by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that “major loss of life has been avoided, due to early warning and the evacuation of people in coastal areas” prior to the cyclone. It said that Burmese authorities and the Red Cross had spearheaded the evacuation.

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