Death toll could be 100,000 or more, reports indicate; fate of 1000 Adventist members in coastal area unknown
BY MARK A. KELLNER, News Editor, with reports from Nadia McGill, ADRA, and Jonathan Catolico, Southern Asia-Pacific Division
temporary worker for the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, ADRA, has been reported missing – and is feared dead – in the wake of Cyclone Nargis, a killer storm which swept Myanmar’s delta region on May 3. Estimates of the death toll from the cyclone, the biggest catastrophe to hit the region since the 2004 Tsunami disaster, have been put at 100,000 or more.
Although local and regional reports say April Win, a temporary cashier for ADRA in Pinsalu, Myanmar, was lost when the cyclone hit, officials at ADRA’s world headquarters are not yet confirming this.
Adventist pastor Ken Suanzanang, Myanmar Union communication director, was among those reporting that Win had perished when the storm hit; however, he was only able to e-mail regional church leaders on May 9.
Five other ADRA workers in Pinsalu, including U Saw (Teddy) Din, the former ADRA country director, were able to ride out the storm, Suanzanang said.
At the same time, Adventist church operations throughout Myanmar, including Yangon, the nation’s capital, have been thoroughly disrupted by the disaster.
SIGN OF THE TIMES: A billboard in Yangon is shredded after Cyclone Nargis, a category 4 storm, hit Myanmar on May 3. [Quentin Campbell/ADRA]
“The Myanmar Union staff could not do any office work because there is no electricity,” Suanzanang reported. “Our problem is water because we depend only on tube wells. We use a generator to connect to the water pump and water was pumped out once in the morning and in the afternoon.”
Suanzanang said educational training for 35 church workers was disrupted, and one of two programs will have to close. Overall, he said, “about one third of the staff and family are still staying the offices because the blown-off roofs cannot be replaced yet. We could not find carpenters. Even an unskilled carpenter cost 10,000 [Myanmar Kyats] per day and we cannot [hire] them because they are occupied with other works.”
Suanzanang concluded by reporting that local believers are grateful: “We faced a disaster. But we are thankful that the Adventists suffered less than others. God protected His people,” he wrote.
According to Mueller Kyaw, Myanmar Union president, it is very possible that more members in the region will be among the casualties, and that all surviving Adventists in the region will have been affected by the disaster.
“There are about 50 Adventist churches in Irrawady Field of Myanmar which was badly hit by the cyclone,” Kyaw indicated in comments furnished by Jonathan Catolico, Southern Asia-Pacific Division communication director. “There are six churches and four companies within the coastal area of Irrawady of about 1,000 members. News [reports] indicate that about 95 percent of the homes, including churches, were destroyed in the coastal area.”
Kyaw added, “Most likely, many of our 1,000 church members along with thousands of others along the coasts were affected, if not among those who were killed[, injured] and/or missing.”
In Yangon, ADRA workers surveyed the damage and destruction caused by the storm and received reports from the region hardest hit.
“One staff member from the Irrawady Delta area made it to Yangon and he was visibly distressed with reports … of only 400 people found in a town of 4000, which is just across the river from where the ADRA staff are living and working,” said Quentin Campbell, an international program coordinator for ADRA Australia, who e-mailed a report from Yangon, the nation’s capital.
In response to the widespread devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis, ADRA emergency response personnel based in the Yangon office are evaluating the damage and determining the most urgent needs in affected areas, after the ten-hour storm slammed the Southeast Asian nation with wind speeds reaching 132 mph. The storm, which left hundreds of thousands of people displaced, blew roofs from hospitals and schools, and cut off electricity throughout the country. ADRA is committed to providing emergency assistance to survivors, including food, water, medical supplies, shelter, and clothing.
ADRA STAFF: Corinna and Marcel Wagner, ADRA Myanmar programs and country directors, in Yangon after the cyclone. [Steve Tasker/ADRA]
The cyclone hit heavily populated Yangon directly, leaving many streets, roads, and bridges impassable due to the considerable amount of downed trees and other debris. In some villages, early estimates indicate that 95 percent of homes have been destroyed.
On May 4, a state of emergency was declared across five regions, including Yangon, Irrawady, Pegu, Karen and Mon, in which 24 million people live. On May 5, foreign ministry officials said they welcomed international aid and relief items, such as roofing materials, plastic sheets and temporary tents, water purifying tablets, blankets, and mosquito nets.
“Despite the constraints, ADRA/Myanmar has already reacted by meeting with the UN agencies and other [non-governmental organizations],” Campbell reported. “They have joined a cluster group where they are preparing to take a lead role in food distribution in areas where they do projects in the delta. Two staff members have already left on an assessment visit to the delta with other agencies and the UN,” he added.
“The people [in Yangon] were left to fend for themselves with no signs of the army that day,” Campbell reported. “We have only been able to walk around town to get to the ADRA office and back to our hotel each night as well as to find food and water as our hotel was running out of food and no longer serving lunch.”
According to Campbell, “the situation in Yangon and the Ayeyarwady area is catastrophic. Joakim Cotting (ADRA/Swiss) and myself were … amongst the most fortunate with minimal damage to the hotel and minor flooding of our hotel rooms. Once the wind reduced to a safe level we left to the hotel to try and get to the Yangon Seventh-day Adventist Church, to try and meet up with Marcel and Corinna Wagner [ADRA Myanmar country director and program director] and Stephen Tasker [Project Manager]. All of the roads were blocked with barely a large tree left standing. People were already out trying to clear the trees with axes, saws and machetes, because of sanctions on the country there is very little fuel and I have not seen any chain saws used yet.”
ADRA said interested donors can contact the organization at 1.800.424.ADRA (2372) or give online at www.adra.org.