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Forecasters Say Cyclone Victims in Burma Doomed from the Start


The World Meteorological Organization says despite early warnings of Cyclone Nargis, there was very little the people of Burma could have done to reduce the large number of casualties. A WMO field mission visited Burma, also known as Myanmar, from May 15 to 18 to assess the timeliness and usefulness of the information given to the authorities before the disaster. The cyclone struck on May 2 and killed an estimated 78,000 people. Another 56,000 people are listed as missing and hundreds of thousands have been left homeless. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from WMO headquarters in Geneva.

The World Meteorological Organization says tens of thousands of people in the Irrawaddy Delta were doomed by a combination of unfortunate factors. It says there was little people could do to protect themselves even though the Burmese authorities were given a two-day warning of the storm's approach.

WMO Director of Weather and Disaster Risk Reduction Services, Dieter Schiessl, says the nature of the storm could not have been worse. He says the track and strength of the storm and the fact that the storm remained stationary for nearly 12 hours over the Irrawaddy Delta near Yangon gave the storm the opportunity to develop its maximum damaging impact.

"If the storm had moved faster or at a slightly northerly or a much more southerly track, the damage would have been significantly reduced," said Schiessl. "So, the storm in itself, the characteristic of the storm was a major contributing element of the disaster dimension."

Schiessl says the people in the Delta were harshly exposed to the forces of nature. He says there was little they could do to save themselves. He says the main mode of transportation is by small boat and this afforded little possibility of escape.

"There is little understanding of how to behave in a situation of an oncoming tropical cyclone and which protective measures to take," said Schiessl. "Most of the people decided to take shelter by staying home. Perhaps a natural thing when you are not living in a fully developed industrialized country where community shelters and other things are available and known. These people decided to take shelter in their own homes and that turned out to be a very disastrous decision."

Schiessl says the meteorological services began issuing storm warnings as early as April 25 and continued doing so through May 3. He says the Burmese authorities informed the media and the public.

The World Meteorological Organization says more resources for storm-surge prediction, better communication and public awareness of warnings, and disaster preparedness measures are needed to save lives.

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