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India, Thailand Warned Burma of Approaching Cyclone

THE IRRAWADDY, May 8, 2008

Rangoon, Burma -- The huge death toll in the cyclone that hit Burma last Saturday would not have been so high if the Burmese government had heeded warnings from India and Thailand that a cyclone was on its way, according to meteorological experts.

India’s state-run Meteorological Department said it had alerted Burma two days before the cyclone struck. The department’s spokesman, B P Yadav told reporters in New Delhi on Wednesday: "Forty-eight hours in advance we informed the Burma weather department about the likely area of landfall as well as time and intensity of the cyclone."

The New Delhi-based Meteorological Department issues regular cyclone warnings and updates to Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Oman and Pakistan, Yadav said.

The Thailand-based Asian Disaster Preparedness Center, set up after the 2004 tsunami, said it had also warned Burma that a cyclone was on its way. The center’s executive director, Dr Bhichit Rattakul, said Cyclone Nargis had been detected in the Bay of Bengal on April 27, five days before its landfall in Burma.

The Burmese government says warnings of the approaching cyclone were published in the official press. The state-back media, however, concentrated almost exclusively on the constitutional referendum in its coverage of current affairs in the days leading up to the cyclone’s arrival.

US First Lady Laura Bush is among those who have accused the regime of failing to warn its people of the approaching cyclone, which struck Burma with devastating effect. Washington’s Rangoon charge d’affaires believes the death toll could exceed 100,000. More than 1 million people are homeless.

The government declared five disaster zones—Rangoon, Irrawaddy and Pegu Divisions and Mon and Karen States—and said that Saturday’s constitutional referendum would be suspended in 47 of their townships. But on Wednesday 24 townships were removed from the list.

The regime’s mishandling of the crisis, particularly its neglect of the warnings from India and Thailand, has sparked widespread criticism and anger. A senior journalist in Rangoon lamented: "They [Burmese generals] are concerned with how to maintain their grip on power. They have no idea at all of how to protect public welfare."

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Myanmar Cyclone Disaster Fast Facts

Toll as at May 9, 2008

Dead (official)
Missing (official) 41,054
Dead (US estimate) 100,000 plus
Homeless (UN estimate) 1 million- plus

International contributors

$10 million
$3 million
UNITED STATES $3 million
AUSTRALIA $2.8 million
$2 million in aid.
CANADA $2 million
INDONESIA $1 million
SPAIN $775,000
GERMANY $775,000
CHINA $500,000
FRANCE $320,000
GREECE $300,000
JAPAN $267,570
THAILAND $100,000
$2.1 million
SRI LANKA $25,000

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