Cyclone Kills at Least 351 in Myanmar, State-run TV Reports

By: AP
By: AP

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) -- Myanmar's state-run television reports that a powerful cyclone has killed at least 351 people.

State-run television says the toll from Tropical Cyclone Nargis includes 109 who lived on Haing Gyi island located off the country's southwest coast.

A U.N. official said earlier that thousands of homes have been destroyed, mostly in the low-lying Irrawaddy delta.

The military-run Myaddy television station says five regions of the country have been declared disaster zones.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) - More than 240 people were killed and thousands of homes were destroyed by a powerful cyclone that swept through Myanmar, state-run media said Sunday.

Five regions of the impoverished country have been declared disaster zones following the storm, which struck early Saturday, the military-run Myaddy television station said.

State-run television reported that 241 people died in the storm, nearly 222 of them from the country's low-lying Irrawaddy delta. The rest were killed in Yangon, which was devastated and left without electricity.

"The Irrawaddy delta was hit extremely hard not only because of the wind and rain but because of the storm surge," said Chris Kaye, the U.N.'s acting humanitarian coordinator in Yangon. "The villages there have reportedly been completely flattened."

Kaye said he was told earlier in the day by the government that 138 people have died and that thousands of homes were destroyed.

The U.N. planned to send teams Monday to assess the damage, he said. Initial assessment efforts have been hampered by roads clogged with debris and downed phone lines, he said.

"At the moment, we have such poor opportunity for communications that I can't really tell you very much," Kaye said.

Witnesses in Yangon said the storm's 120 mph winds blew the roofs off hundreds of houses, damaged hotels, schools and hospitals, and cut electricity to the entire city. The state-owned newspaper New Light of Myanmar reported Sunday that the international airport in Yangon remained shut.

Domestic flights have been diverted to the airport in Mandalay, it said.

"It's a bad situation. Almost all the houses are smashed. People are in a terrible situation," said a U.N. official in Yangon, who requested anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the media.

"All the roads are blocked. There is no water. There is no electricity," she said.

Yangon residents ventured out Sunday to buy construction materials to repair their homes. Some people expressed anger that the military-led government had done little so far to help with the cleanup.

"Where are all those uniformed people who are always ready to beat civilians?" said one man, who refused to be identified for fear of retribution. "They should come out in full force and help clean up the areas and restore electricity."

The cyclone came at a delicate time for Myanmar, which is scheduled to hold a referendum May 10 on the country's military-backed draft constitution.

A military-managed national convention was held intermittently for 14 years to lay down guidelines for the country's new constitution.

The new constitution is supposed to be followed in 2010 by a general election. Both votes are elements of a "roadmap to democracy" drawn up by the junta, which has been in power for two decades.

Critics say the draft constitution is designed to cement military power and have urged citizens to vote no.

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