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Page last updated at 00:23 GMT, Tuesday, 6 May 2008 01:23 UK

Burmese storm toll 'tops 10,000'

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Aerial footage of the cyclone aftermath

More than 10,000 people were killed in a devastating cyclone that hit western Burma on Saturday, Foreign Minister Nyan Win has said on state TV.

He said his government was ready to accept international assistance. Aid shipments are now being prepared.

Thousands of survivors of Cyclone Nargis are lacking shelter, drinking water, power and communications.

The United States offered to increase aid offered if Burma agreed to allow a US team access to assess the situation.

First Lady Laura Bush, who takes a special interest in Burma, urged Burma to accept $250,000 (126,000) already allocated for emergency aid, and said more would be available if the team was allowed into the country.

She also accused the Burmese authorities of failing to give a "timely warning" about the approaching storm, after which five regions - home to 24 million people - have been declared disaster zones.

Sea surge

Expressing his sadness at the scale of the disaster, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon confirmed that UN officials were meeting Burmese government representatives to discuss how to help.

If the toll is confirmed, Nargis is now the world's deadliest storm since a 1999 cyclone in India killed 10,000 people.

Nargis hit the south-east Asian country on Saturday with wind speeds reaching 190km/h (120mph). It brought with it a sea surge that smashed through towns and villages.

Map

Earlier on Monday, the death toll was being put at 351 but the foreign minister later went on TV to announce the figure of at least 10,000.

With information still coming in, he warned the toll could yet rise.

The towns of Bogalay and Laputta, in the region of Irrawaddy, are among those locations particularly badly hit, state media have reported.

None of the casualty figures have been independently confirmed.

The BBC is not permitted to report from Burma, also known as Myanmar.

Houses 'skeletal'

Thousands of buildings have been flattened, power lines downed, trees uprooted, roads blocked and water supplies disrupted.

People queue to get drinking water in Rangoon on 5 May 2008
Many people have been left without drinking water and shelter

A Rangoon resident who spoke to relatives in Laputta told BBC Burmese that 75% to 80% of the town had been destroyed.

Houses along the coast had been reduced to skeletal structures, 16 villages had been virtually wiped out and no help had reached Laputta, he said.

Pictures on state TV show security services working to clear roads but in Rangoon and elsewhere there are complaints that the response to the disaster has been weak.

An eyewitness describes the cyclone

"Where are the soldiers and police? They were very quick and aggressive when there were protests in the streets last year," a retired government worker complained to Reuters news agency.

He was referring to protests led by Buddhist monks last year that were quickly put down.

Earlier, a BBC journalist monitoring the situation in Burma from Bangkok, Soe Win, said the shortages of power and water were particularly critical.

Local people were saying that if the situation continued for another two or three days, it would be really difficult for them, he reported.

Aid assessment

Several hundred thousand people are in need of shelter and clean drinking water, UN disaster response official Richard Horsey said.

DEADLIEST RECENT STORMS
Hurricane Katrina, US, 2005 - at least 1,836 dead
Orissa Cyclone, 1999, Northern India - at least 10,000 dead
Hurricane Mitch, 1998, Central America - at least 11,000 dead
Typhoon Thelma, 1991, Philippines - 6,000 dead
Bangladesh cyclone, 1991 - about 138,000 dead
Bhola cyclone, 1970 - at least 300,000 dead

But damage to roads and communications mean it is impossible to tell the true extent of the situation, he added.

Prices of food, fuel and basic necessities have also risen dramatically.

The UN and international aid agencies are sending assessment teams to the worst-hit areas and shipments are being prepared.

Thailand has announced it is flying in a transport plane loaded with nine tonnes of food and medicines and India is sending two naval ships carrying food, tents, blankets, clothing and medicines.

The US, which released an immediate funding package of $250,000 (127,000) to be channelled through the UN, said that Burmese authorities had refused permission for an American disaster assistance response team to enter.

Meanwhile, Burma's military junta has said a referendum on a new national constitution will go ahead on Saturday. People were "eagerly looking forward to voting", it said.

But some people are now wondering if this natural disaster could have serious political repercussions, reports the BBC's Andrew Harding in the Thai capital Bangkok.


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