On May 2 and 3, Cyclone Nargis ravaged the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar.
Over two weeks later, the cyclone’s effects are still strong. An estimated 1.6 to 2.5 million people have been affected, according to a United Nations press release. At least 78,000 have been killed by the cyclone and 56,000 people are still missing.
Jim Kang, a Davis resident and member of the Davis Korean Church, was on a mission trip with three others in Myanmar dispensing medicine, resources and faith to citizens when the storm hit, he said.
His group was staying on the western edge of a coastal city when a local policeman told them about the 15 to 20 foot tidal waves. Luckily, their bus driver had overslept, keeping them inside at least 45 minutes longer.
“I am confident that we would have been washed away and died had it not been for our sleepy bus driver,” Kang said.
After the storm, the Davis group was able to get back to Davis, after many days of blocked streets and food, water, electricity and fuel shortages.
Cyclone Nargis was a tropical cyclone, which is the same as a typhoon or hurricane, said Kyaw Tha Paw U, professor of atmospheric science at UC Davis’ department of land, air and water resources. The Indian Meteorological Agency warned the Burmese government about a category-3 storm, but the government did not tell the people.
Kyaw Tha Paw U is Burmese-American with relatives living in Myanmar. He has only received news about his family indirectly because of erratic phone contact, which is normal, but has been exacerbated after the storm, he said. His mother was able to contact a neighbor who reported that his relatives were safe.
Adding to the chaos of the cyclone, Myanmar, which is the name given by the military government despite locals who consider themselves Burmese, lacks government help and willingness to accept foreign aid. Myanmar has been a military dictatorship for over 30 years, said Benjamin Lawrance, assistant professor in the history department.
“It does not permit anyone to visit the country without a visa, and is very cautious about allowing people into the country unmonitored because its leaders want to control all images that circulate beyond its borders,” Lawrance said in an e-mail interview.
With this attitude, foreign aid is almost impossible to get to hard-hit and poorer regions further into the country. Kyaw Tha Paw U said he has heard that the government is starting to allow more Chinese and Indian aid and even some American aid. The American Red Cross has committed $1.25 million toward Myanmar relief efforts, according to an American Red Cross press release.
Supplies and aid are coming into the major city of Yangon and just sitting there, Kyaw Tha Paw U said. The aid needs to be sent closer to the Irrawaddy Delta where entire villages have been wiped out, he added.
Kang said he saw the lack of government help throughout the country. People were organizing themselves, conducting traffic and cleaning debris from the streets, he said.
“They don’t expect the government to help. They take matters into their own hands,” Kang said.
SASHA LEKACH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org