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Myanmar press reports 1,350 families left homeless by cyclone

AP, 29 May 2004

YANGON (AP) - One week after a deadly cyclone swept through northwestern Myanmar, the state media reported it for the first time Saturday, saying 1,350 families were left homeless. But it made no mention of the 140 deaths reported earlier by a U.N. agency.

The reports of the May 19 storm in Myanmar's western Rakhine State came a day after foreign shortwave radio stations, widely listened to in military-ruled Myanmar, broadcast news of the tragedy based on information from U.N. humanitarian agencies.

The Myanmar-language daily Kyemon reported Saturday that the storm hit the coastal towns of Sittway, Kyaukpyu, Myebon and Pauktaw , all several hundred kilometers (miles) northwest of the capital Yangon.

In addition to the families made homeless, several people who were fishing in the sea and working in aquaculture farms along the coast were killed, reported the newspaper, which gave no other details.

Myanmar's state-controlled media often downplays bad news such as natural disasters, accidents or fire.

U.N. agencies said Friday that the storm, with winds of up to 170 kilometers (105 miles) per hour, left 18,000 people homeless. UNICEF - the United Nations Children's Fund – described it as the worst to hit the area since 1968.

UNICEF said at least 2,650 homes were confirmed destroyed, with another 1,385 reported to be severely damaged by the storm, which caused tidal surges and flooding.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, another U.N. agency, said 140 people were killed and that seven were missing.

Still unknown, according to UNICEF, was the number of casualties from at least 84 ships lost at sea, and an ocean liner that ran aground and sank near the Sittway jetty.

The U.N. agencies said the storm knocked out telephone services and electricity supplies, and damaged other essential infrastructure, such as piers. Many hospitals and health centers were also badly damaged by the storm, they added.

Kyemon reported that measures were being taken to prevent the outbreak of contagious diseases and provide drinking water and food and clothing to the victims of the cyclone. UNICEF had reported that the storm had caused water sources to become polluted by flood waters.

The Myanmar newspaper accounts said that the Social Welfare Relief and Resettlement Ministry, the Education Ministry, the Health Ministry and the Border Areas Development Ministry were all helping out with emergency relief efforts, along with the Red Cross.

UNICEF said the Myanmar government had requested assistance in the form of food, medicines, clothing and materials for temporary shelters.



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