Cyclone Nargis

In the last few days, I have received several emails from people back home expressing concern about what is happening inside Burma right now, in the wake of the cyclone. Burma is a country from which it is difficult to get reliable news at the best of time and now is no exception.

Yesterday I received word from someone I know who is working in Rangoon and I wanted to share some excerpts of her email with everyone who is looking for information on what is happening. (I hope she’ll forgive me as I don’t have her permission to make the email public.)

Here on the border, surrounded by mountains, mostly everything is fine. Just before the cyclone there was a terrible storm in which one migrant school blew down and another lost its roof. At the Mae Tao clinic, a wonderful medical center which responds to the medical needs of people from Burma, several roofs came off in the storm. There is no flooding and mostly people with family in the affected areas are waiting for news from their family and friends.

The cyclone that hit southern Myanmar/Burma decimated the coastal and delta regions, with the majority of deaths concentrating on the most poverty-stricken communities. By the time the cyclone reached Yangon, the category 4 hurricane had become category 2-3 with winds of 120 to 150 mph. So far, overall estimates are 22,000 dead, 41,000 missing and 2 million homeless (these are the last figure I heard–I can’t keep up with how fast it rises without tv or radio). These numbers are expected to increase as more information is gathered.

In Yangon, about 80% of the trees have been beheaded or uprooted, falling on phone lines, power lines and water pipes. Many of the main roads have been cleared enough for transportation, however, and a few phone lines (mostly hotels) are working. Mobile phones receive inconsistent signal but are able to receive international calls now. People are working extremely hard to restore the city to functionality but even the most optimistic estimates put this at one month from now.

Lack of fuel and communication channels are two of the most debilitating effects of the cyclone. Without phone lines, people must meet for face-to-face to communicate if they don’t have a mobile phone (which is most). Almost all electricity comes from generators right now because the city grid doesn’t work, yet the generators need the fuel that the destroyed ports cannot deliver. Many people’s water supply depends on electricity to work the pumps, so water shortage is a resulting crisis. There is concern that disease will be widespread if the lack of clean water continues. Prices for ALL commodities are escalating from scarcity and demand. The local communities are suffering most acutely because many people cannot meet the cost for basic necessities. Homes that were not reinforced by concrete have been torn apart by the winds and rain and some people have literally nothing now.

To everyone in Burma, our thoughts are with you.

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