Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Rescuers race to flood zones as toll rises

By AFP   |   Tuesday, 04 August 2015
Rescuers raced yesterday to help tens of thousands stranded by rooftop-high floods, as the UN warned that swollen rivers threaten more areas and large swathes of Asia were hit by deadly monsoon rains.
Residents paddle through floodwaters in Kalay, Sagaing Region, yesterday. Photo: AFPResidents paddle through floodwaters in Kalay, Sagaing Region, yesterday. Photo: AFP
Authorities in Myanmar said the death toll from flash floods and landslides caused by weeks of unrelenting rain rose to 46, with some 200,000 affected and villagers in remote areas forced to use canoes and makeshift rafts.
Hundreds have also perished in recent days in India, Nepal, Pakistan and Vietnam following floods and landslides triggered by a belt of heavy seasonal rains.
Access to many towns in central and western Myanmar has been severed and relief workers fear it could be days before the true extent of the disaster emerges.
“Logistics are extremely difficult. Assessment teams are having a hard time reaching affected areas,” said Pierre Peron, a spokesperson for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The UN was “very concerned” by the situation, he said, adding that while flooding had begun to recede in some places, rivers were bursting their banks and inundating new areas.
Relentless downpours were last week exacerbated by Cyclone Komen, which drove fierce winds and heavy rain across the western part of the country.
Residents near Kalay, a town in the western Sagaing region that remains virtually encircled by deep water, described how their homes were swallowed by the deluge.
“There was no warning ... We thought it was normal [seasonal flooding],” Ma Aye Myat Su, 30, said from a monastery being used as a temporary shelter in Kalay.
“But within a few hours, the whole house was underwater. My husband had to get onto the roof as there was no way out.”
An AFP photographer in the area said floodwaters remained high yesterday, with many people making their way to safety in rafts cobbled together from old tyres, salvaged wood and large plastic bottles.
Myanmar’s annual monsoon is a lifeline for farmers but the rains and frequent powerful cyclones can also prove deadly.
Poor infrastructure and limited government search and rescue capability have hampered relief efforts across the nation, with roads, phone lines and electricity knocked out by the rising water.
“We are speeding up assistance and relief work,” an official at the Relief and Resettlement Department said, asking not to be named, adding 46 people had died in the floods as of August 2, with some 200,000 affected.
Authorities have declared the four worst-hit areas in central and western Myanmar “national disaster-affected regions”.
Landslides in Chin State have destroyed 700 homes in the state capital Hakha, according to the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar.
President U Thein Sein has promised the government will do its “utmost” to provide relief, but said parts of Chin had been cut off from surrounding areas, the report added.
The health ministry says it is distributing medical supplies across the country including chlorine tablets, although it was unclear how they will reach many of the afflicted zones, with boats and helicopters in short supply.
Rains have also battered Rakhine State, which already hosts about 140,000 displaced people, mainly Rohingya Muslims, who live in exposed coastal camps following deadly 2012 unrest between the minority group and Buddhists.
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