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Indian Forecasters Gave Burma Advance Warning of Cyclone Nargis


Indian government weather forecasters say they gave their Burmese counterparts ample warning that a cyclone was headed their way. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from New Delhi the Indian meteorologists add they had no reply from the Burmese forecasters that they were aware of the seriousness of the storm.

India says it gave Burma sufficient warning that a potentially deadly storm was headed its way across the Bay of Bengal.

The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) is mandated by the United Nations to issue cyclone warnings to seven other countries in the region, including Burma.

The IMD's cyclone director, M. Mahapatra, tells VOA News regular advisories were issued to Burma from April 26, when the forming tropical depression was detected in the Bay of Bengal. He says his department followed up with subsequent bulletins as well as an e-mailed warning when it became apparent that Cyclone Nargis was going to strike Burma, also known as Myanmar.

"We issued the lengthy warning for Myanmar, that is, a cyclone is likely to cross [the] Myanmar coast - that bulletin was issued 36 hours in advance. We sent an e-mail actually, we could not get any reply. So there was no direct contact, but we had sent the bulletins as for the practice."

Other international forecasters also predicted Cyclone Nargis was likely to cause devastation to Burma.

VOA News last Thursday reported the storm was more likely to strike Burma than Bangladesh, and quoted a British academic forecaster as saying there was a one in three chance of Nargis strengthening into a super cyclone along the magnitude of Cyclone Sidr, which killed several thousand people in Bangladesh last November.

Indian authorities say Burma had ample time to issue domestic warnings and save lives. That was an assessment echoed Monday by U.S. First Lady Laura Bush when she noted that the military-run government was aware of the threat, but Burma's state-run media failed to issue timely warnings to those in the path of the killer storm.

The World Meteorological Organization in Geneva says its Burmese representative has told it that warnings were issued by the country the day before the cyclone made landfall.

"I do not necessarily put doubt over that because we will be able to verify this sooner or later to which extent information was really disseminated to the general public," said Dieter Schiessel, the WMO's risk reduction director. "The weakness seems to be how the information was received and converted into protective measures."

The Burmese government says more than 22,000 died after the storm made landfall in the Irawaddy River delta late Friday and swept into Rangoon the following day. An estimated 40,000 people are missing and perhaps as many as one million are homeless.

It is the worst disaster in the region since the December 2004 earthquake and tsunami, which killed more than 200,000 people in 12 countries.

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