"We are definitely used to hardship"

As the world watches in disbelief the horrific images of devastated areas and floating bodies, the people of Kun Gyan Gon, a town 55km south of Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar, and 8km from the sea, are seeing very little signs of help. Its 20,000 households have been severely hit; not one shack was spared.

[Read this report in Arabic]

Sandar, who lives in a small village 4km from Kun Gyan Gon, recounts her ordeal: "At about 8pm [on 2 May] a coconut tree fell on our house so we had to leave and look for a place to shelter. People of my village were forming groups and holding each other's hands so we would not get separated or lost; it was so dark and scary. We managed to reach one house but it was not safe either; we needed to move. Then at about 10pm the water came in and within 20 minutes had risen to my chin.

"The current was so strong, it was pitch black, we did not know where we were going. We were screaming but could not hear each other as we made our way through the water. Then the chain broke, first I lost my mother, 93, and the young man who was carrying her on his back, then the young girl next to me who was helping and holding my son just let go of me ... she was holding my son as I was too exhausted, I just became crazy, it was dark I could not find them, the current was so strong I lost him, he was gone, it took two hours to reach one monastery, once there I don't remember any more, I passed out.

“When daylight came I went to my brother's monastery in town and that's where I found my son. He had been saved by the young girl, Mya San Yin, who has gone to Yangon now ... this is a miracle, I am so lucky - even my mother was brought here so now we are all together again."

''I cannot believe how many dead there are. I feel bad, I saw people drowning but as I cannot swim, I was not able to save them.''

Stench of death everywhere

Her story was a lucky one but en route to a village 4km away, dead bodies were still visible on the side of the road outside the town. Two buffaloes tied together were rotting away, more carcasses with hooves sticking out of bamboo twines were visible, the sickly stench of death was everywhere.

In the next village the only building still standing was the monastery, where about 250 people were sheltering. Nurses and doctors from the Health Ministry arrived with a military escort and tended the wounded and distributed some health supplies. On the way back a young lieutenant hitched a ride with us. "The army is trying its best," he says. He was visibly upset. "I cannot believe how many dead there are," he said, covering his nose to block the smell. "I feel bad, I saw people drowning but as I cannot swim, I was not able to save them."

Back in town, the army set itself up in a building with half a roof, banners indicating its role as a health and supply centre. Armed guards surrounded the building where a few supplies of rice and oil and rolls of plastic sheeting were lying around, the colonel swamped by the village elders asking for supplies. "We need rice. Water is sufficient as fire-brigade trucks are distributing clean water. As far as we know the number of dead thus far is 700 and there are 1,000 missing [in the area]," he said.


Photo: AFP Photo/IRIN
Survivors of Cyclone Nargis reach out to receive food aid on the outskirts of Yangon

The army has the opportunity to improve its image, but the window is closing fast. As a UN spokesman in Bangkok said: "There is a 10-day window; after that a new spike in deaths will occur due to exposure and epidemics."

A young doctor said diarrhoea would be a problem but the medical teams were still making assessments as poor roads and lack of access to some places were impeding their progress. However, he said, "People can be more resistant than viruses, we in Burma are definitely used to hardship."

Meanwhile, The New Light of Mynamar newspaper reported on a visit by Prime Minister General Thein Sein to disaster areas and donating 20 television sets, 10 DVD players and 10 satellite receivers to the chairman of the ruling State Peace and Development Council for Irrawaddy division.

mq/mw