Collection of interviews/ experiences of Cyclone survivors - Translated from Burmese

10 May 2008

(Translated by Burmese M. Python - BBWOB)

Mizzima reporter interviewed three surviving victims, Ma Eh Lay, Ko Khin Maung and an anonymous person. Here are some snippets.

Ma Eh Lay (12 years) said that she has walked ten miles to Laputta for about 5 days. Both of her parents were dead. She was hung on a tree when she became conscious. She saw a lot of dead bodies on her way to Laputta. She couldn’t even remember her own village because of the flood. The food was scare on the way. She had to eat coconut and drink its juice. When people cooked rice, they had to use coconut juice. The rice was also wet. She felt very sad because her family members were dead.

Ko Khin Maung (40 years) said he was the only one left in the family. Nine of his family members were dead. He did not get the cyclone warning. He said he did not think the cyclone would be this devastating. Cattle from the village were all dead. He arrived in Rangoon on the 8th. He did not see any rescue teams along the way. About 300 villages out of 365 were hit by the cyclone. He heard that 126,000 people died according to the statistics from some people in Laputta. Drinking water was scare along the way, too.

An anonymous Laputta resident said there was acid rain with the storm. He said the acid rain caused a lot of skin problems for many people. The biggest problem right now is not having enough drinking water. He also said the psychological damage was also having an impact on the survivors. In the surge of current, some people lost their family members after the torrent broke their holding hands. The survivors were left with psychologically affected. Laputta’s monasteries and schools were all crowded with survivors. Some people had to sleep on the platforms. The authorities and soldiers were sending survivors to other towns as soon as they arrived at the ports. They were sent to places like Myaung Mya, Bassein and Wah Kher Ma.

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(Translated by May - BBWOB)

A resident of Laputta town talked to Mizzima about acid rain and the psychological damage that seems to have been inflicted on the survivors as a result of the disaster.

"The acid rain came with the cyclone. Many people had their skin burned by the acid rain. The acid burned through the outer layer of skin. You could see the patches of adipose tissue on their bodies. We tried to drink rain water, but it was salty. So there was no drinking water. It was terrible. There must be hundreds of people who suffered burns as a result of the acid rain."

"The rain water was very acidic. When the rain hit bamboo, we could actually see sparks. Many people are ill. Some are in a daze. They lost their families and it makes them feel helpless because they couldn't save them. Also, they have nothing left, so they are at a loss. They're very traumatised by the experience."

"When the survivors reach the jetties, they're immediately herded up the lorries by the 66th Battalion, to be sent to other towns. They don't let them enter the town of Laputta. They're being sent to Myaung Mya, Basein, and WahKhaeMa."

"Laputta can't accomodate any more people. The 30 monasteries are completely full. People are occupying the moasteries, and some are filling up the roadside platforms. In some places, there is no shade at all. But they have no villages to return to."

For the original article in Burmese, please click here.

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(Translated by May - BBWOB)

Firsthand accounts of Cyclone survivors:

Source: Mizzima

Survivor: Ma El Lay, age 12
Chan Tha Gyi Village No 1, Laputta Township

"It took me 4-5 days to reach the town of Laputta. I had to walk about 100 miles. No rescue team came. They wanted to send me to Myaung Mya. The soldiers from Battalion 66 told me they will send me there. They said they would kill me if I tried anything funny."

"I've only been in Yangon for 2 days. So many people perished in one night. It's shocking, and very frightening. Both my parents died. The cyclone whipped off the roof of our house in the middle of the night. I ended up on a tree. When I came to, I saw many corpses in the rice fields. I picked my way around the bodies. The village was beyond recognition. There were only a few trees left, and even those trees had no leaves left."

"I didn't eat anything on the way. There were no shops. The shops along the way were very expensive. Those 4 days were very difficult. I ate coconut and drank the coconut juice. There was no water in the village. I had to use coconut water to cook the damp rice that was left."

"We lived with our extended family that numbered 40. My immediate family has 10 of us. Now my parents and siblings are gone, and I'm very sad and frightened."

Survivor: Ko Khin Maung, age 40
Chan Tha Gyi Village No. 1, Laputta Township

"It's horrible. Our whole village was flattened. I'm the only survivor in my family of 10. We tried to hold on to each other, but we couldn't. They were all taken by the cyclone. I couldn't even retrieve any of their bodies. End of story."

"I have no more relatives in Laputta. They were all swept away by the waves. I have nothing left. We have never had such a storm in this region. We're not in the habit of listening to the radio. The authorities should have warned us, but they did nothing. And now we have all suffered."

"We only knew about the cyclone when the wind picked up. It's never happened before, so we didn't expect things to be this bad. We gathered at houses which we thought could withstand the wind. We also didn't expect the waves to be so high. The waves were too strong. Everything is gone.. the houses, the animals.."

"We arrived in Yangon yesterday, the 8th. We didn't receive any aid along the way. No rescue teams, no help. We had to help ourselves. Laputta township has 56 village clusters, comprising 365 villages. The cyclone destroyed about 300 of them. According to the list compiled by the Traders Association in Laputta, up to 4th May, the death toll is about 126000. It's not complete. There was no aid at all; I didn't even get to drink a drop of water."

"Some of the people in town have donated rice. So we survived on porridge. But water and other food supplies were scarce. The conditions are bad. I had phone contact this morning, and I was informed that three children have died from cholera."

For the original article in Burmese, please click here.

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(Shared by Burmese M. Python - BBWOB)

From Interesting Times blog at the New Yorker.

An account after a tour of the capital:
[In a Hindu temple] there are eight hundred people camped out with less than satisfactory sanitation, diminishing clean water supply, and very little other than rice porridge in the last two days. We headed over to Hlaing Thaya and before we even got to the monastery where we helped outstopped in an elementary school that had around three hundred homeless people with a broken water pump. Across the way, in another temple, another two hundred and fifty or so from the same village where thatch houses had been totally smashed by cyclone Nargis. We then went to the opposite side of the city Shwebaukan to the 11th and 12th quarters. Up to five hundred people in one school being threatened by the local Army guy swinging weight that they could not stay there for long, and further a village of people with NO building for shelter, no clean water, and a foot of flood water beneath/in each more or less roofless house. The regime is busy chopping up fallen trees on roads mostly in rich areas in town and is beginning to work on electric poles in rich areas of town. Survival for the poor or communication with citizenry is not its forte. It even neglects its own As I passed some soldiers cutting trees yesterday, I asked if they’d eaten breakfast. Of course not! So I went back home to get them some bread.

An expatriate living in Burma:
The malevolence of the Burmese government toward its people is incomprehensible. The junta is making it very difficult for foreign relief agencies to get desperately need medical assistance and other supplies to the hundreds of thousands (more likely millions) of victims of the cyclone. International media report that foreign relief workers are not being granted visas. Even if aid personnel can get into the country, existing government regulations are likely to make it difficult for expatriate relief workers to travel very far outside Rangoon. Both the Burmese government restrictions and U.S. economic sanctions make it very difficult to give money to local N.G.O.s directly, but it is possible to support their work by donating to the international groups that have longstanding partnerships with local N.G.O.s and community-based organizations (including churches and monasteries).

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