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Thai team barred from junta-ruled country; toll could hit more than 127,000

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05/14/2008 11:52 AM
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Thai team barred from junta-ruled country; toll could hit more than 127,000
YANGON, Myanmar - Another powerful storm headed toward Myanmar’s cyclone-devastated delta, where so little aid has reached that the United Nations warned on Wednesday of a “second wave of deaths” among an estimated 2 million survivors.

But Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej said Myanmar officials told him they were in control of the relief operations and don't need foreign experts in the Irrawaddy delta area.

The area was pulverized by Cyclone Nargis on May 3, with the Red Cross estimating on Wednesday the toll will be between 68,833 and 127,990.

The government, for its part, have given a toll of least 34,273 dead and 27,838 missing.

An estimated 2 million survivors of the storm are still in need of emergency aid. But U.N. agencies and other groups have been able to reach only 270,000 people so far.

The military regime has barred foreign aid workers from travelling to the delta since Nargis roared ashore.

The Myanmar junta guaranteed that there were no disease outbreaks and no starvation among the survivors, Samak told reporters after returning from Myanmar’s main city of Yangon, where he met with his counterpart, Prime Minister Lt. Gen. Thein Sein.

Myanmar did not want any foreign aid workers because they “have their own team to cope with the situation,” Samak said.

Bottlenecks, poor logistics, limited infrastructure and the military government’s refusal to allow foreign aid workers have left most of the delta’s survivors living in miserable conditions without food or clean water. The government’s efforts have been criticized as woefully slow.

“The government has a responsibility to assist their people in the event of a natural disaster,” said Amanda Pitt, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for Humanitarian Affairs.

“We are here to do what we can and facilitate their efforts and scale up their response. It is clearly inadequate and we do not want to see a second wave of death as a result of that not being scaled up,” she said.

New storm brewing
The U.S. military’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center said there is a good chance that “a significant tropical cyclone” will form within the next 24 hours and head across the Irrawaddy delta area.

The news of a second cyclone was not broadcast by Myanmar’s state-controlled media. But Yangon residents picked up the news on foreign broadcasts and on the Internet.

“I prayed to the Lord Buddha, ‘please save us from another cyclone. Not just me but all of Myanmar,”’ said Min Min, a rickshaw driver, whose house was destroyed in Cyclone Nargis. Min Min, his wife and three children now live on their wrecked premises under plastic sheets.

“Another cyclone will be a disaster because our relief center is already overcrowded. I am very worried,” said Tun Zaw, 68, another Yangon resident who is living in a government relief center.

Prof. Johnny Chan, a tropical cyclone expert with City University of Hong Kong, said the new cyclone would likely not be as severe as Nargis because it is already close to land, and cyclones need to be over sea to gain full strength.

“There will be a lot of rain but the winds will not be as strong,” he told The Associated Press.

[link to www.msnbc.msn.com]