The biggest earthquake in 40 years has caused what's being called one of the world's worst disasters in history. The death toll continues to rise, millions are left homeless, and relief agencies struggle to help provide food and shelter and prevent the spread of disease caused by unburied bodies.
India and Sri Lanka have been hardest hit, and the United Nations has reported at least 90 people were killed in Burma.
Burma’s military regime normally gives few details of natural disasters, but an official told RFA that deaths were reported in Labutta and on Pyinsalu Island in the Irrawaddy Delta at Burma’s southwestern tip.
“The walls of a gymnasium collapsed,” said a resident of Bogale, responding to a phone call from RFA, “and a 14-year old girl, a member of the local Red Cross Society, died in the incident.”
Local citizens in the country’s southwest said the upper portion of a famous pagoda, the Maw Tin Zun near Pathein (Bassein), was severely damaged by the quake. Some monasteries in Haingyi Island, 123 miles southwest of Rangoon, were also damaged. In one part of Rangoon, buildings swayed but no deaths were reported.
In order to obtain the official version of events, RFA called the Ministry of Relief and Resettlement in Rangoon. The official who answered said, “We don’t have the details. We have learned so far that there were about 40 deaths in Labutta and Pyinsalu Island but these cannot yet be confirmed. Because of the lack of details, we cannot issue any announcements yet.”
Earlier, a woman living in Rangoon gave her account: “In the Kyaikkasan area, things dropped from shelves, doors rattled and people ran down onto the streets. Two buildings in Kyaukmyaung Township tilted to one side as the ground underneath gave way. People in the city, especially in old buildings, were all frightened.”
In Kawthoung, the southernmost point of Burma, opposite the Thai port of Ranong, a resident told RFA that waves destroyed a new bridge, taking people with it. He said that 16 bodies were seen at the town hospital. A Western tourist was taking pictures and he, too, fell into the water. He showed up unharmed, however, about three miles away.
Burma’s state-controlled media on Monday morning said that more than 9,000 died in south and Southeast Asia, a number far below the total reported by countries around the region. But the Burmese media made no immediate mention of damage or casualties in Burma.
By Monday evening, according to China’s official Xinhua News Agency, the Burmese government began to provide a few details. It confirmed that 51 people had been killed, with 25 others missing and 45 injured, Xinhua said.
The country’s official Myanmar News Agency reported that the tidal waves, triggered by the massive quake, destroyed 17 villages, leaving over 200 people homeless in the country’s coastal area.
Rescue operations were underway, the agency added.
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