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Page last updated at 12:50 GMT, Tuesday, 20 May 2008 13:50 UK

Eyewitness: Burma delta disaster

Dr Sean Keogh (L) treats a child in the Irrawaddy delta
Dr Sean Keogh (L) says many children have been orphaned by the storm

A medic has described the harrowing scenes of devastation he witnessed in cyclone-ravaged Burma.

Dr Sean Keogh, who works with medical aid agency Merlin, spent nine days in the badly-hit Irrawaddy Delta region.

The Briton, now back in the UK, told the BBC: "Homes have been washed away, erased from the landscape. Entire villages are totally obliterated."

About 78,000 people were killed by the 2 May storm, Burma says, and another 56,000 are missing.

But Dr Keogh says according to local estimates up to 80,000 people died alone around the delta township of Laputta - which had a population of 350,000.

One of the few international observers allowed outside the commercial capital Rangoon, Dr Keogh joined relief efforts at Laputta, where Merlin has had a presence for four years.

Family of cyclone refugees

Dr Keogh, who has worked with Merlin for 15 years, said: "There has been some clean-up and cremation but there are still bodies floating in the river.

"Some families have been so completely wiped out, there is no-one to bury the dead," he added. "They are hanging from trees and trapped on posts."

The 44-year-old, who was in the region from 9 to 18 May, said villagers had spoken of the cyclone sucking up a tidal surge of up to 20ft (six metres).

Dr Keogh said: "The cyclone wiped out a number of small villages - these people have no shelter at all and it's continually raining."

The UK National Health Service emergency medicine consultant says 5,000 sq km (1,900 sq miles) of land in the region remain under water.

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Disease is a looming threat, he said, with the "usual suspects" of acute diarrhoea and mosquito-borne malaria and dengue fever as the main risks.

Children had been particularly badly hit by the cyclone, he said, with orphans most at risk from illness, malnutrition and even abduction.

"A lot of young children can't swim and some people have many children and they can't save the whole family," he said.

"Many children have lost both parents. They are obviously highly vulnerable and we don't want them to get picked up."

Dr Keogh has worked on several disasters, including Iran's 2003 earthquake, the Boxing Day 2004 Asian tsunami and the Pakistan quake the following year.

He said: "The difference with this disaster is we're getting aid in but it's not enough and it's not quick enough."

The charity has not escaped the impact of the cyclone - at least 50 out of 550 community health care workers trained by Merlin are dead, he said.


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