Hundreds Dead From Cyclone In Myanmar

(AP) More than 240 people have died in Myanmar from a powerful cyclone that knocked out power in the impoverished country's commercial capital and destroyed thousands of homes, state-run media said Sunday.

Military-run Myaddy television station said five regions had been declared disaster zones following Saturday's storm, which packed winds of up to 120 mph per hour.

State-run television reported that 241 people died in the storm, 222 of them in the low-lying Irrawaddy delta. The others died in Yangon, the commercial capital, which was badly damaged by the storm.

State TV said 75 percent of the buildings in Irrawaddy's Labutta township had collapsed.

"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 meteorological bureau had forecast the cyclone would cause tides to rise as much as 12 feet above normal levels, although no details of the actual rise were available Sunday.

Kaye said the government told him earlier in the day that thousands of homes were destroyed.

The U.N. tried to send teams to assess the damage, but their efforts were hampered by roads clogged with debris and phone lines that were down. They would try again Monday, Kaye said.

He said he didn't know any more because communications had been so spotty since the storm.

Witnesses in Yangon said the storm 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 and that domestic flights were being diverted to the city of Mandalay 350 miles to the north.

"It's a bad situation. Almost all the houses are smashed. People are in a terrible situation," another U.N. official in Yangon said earlier Sunday. She 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 hit ahead of a scheduled referendum May 10 on the country's military-backed draft constitution.

The junta says the new constitution will be followed in 2010 by general elections. 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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