June 18, 2008

Burma Death Toll Revised Downard

The death toll is revised down but the terrible suffering remains.

“We saw very, very few serious injuries,” said Frank Smithuis, head of the substantial mission in Myanmar for Doctors Without Borders. “You were dead or you were in O.K. shape.”

The cyclone swept away bamboo huts throughout the delta; in the hardest-hit villages, it left almost no trace of habitation. Some flood-borne survivors found themselves many miles from home when the waters receded.

But unlike the case in many other natural disasters, like the recent earthquake in China, those who survived were not likely to be injured in the aftermath by falling rocks or collapsing buildings.

That appears to be the primary reason why villagers were able to stay alive for weeks without aid. As they waited, the survivors, most of whom were fishermen and farmers, lived off of coconuts, rotten rice and fish.

“The Burmese people are used to getting nothing,” said Shari Villarosa, the highest-ranking United States diplomat in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. “I’m not getting the sense that there have been a lot of deaths as a result of the delay.”

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