Myanmar flood death toll ‘to rise’
YANGON // The toll from flash floods and landslides in Myanmar after days of torrential rain is likely to rise, the UN warned Sunday, as monsoon downpours brought misery to thousands across the region.
At least 27 people have been killed and more than 150,000 affected by flooding in Myanmar in recent days, with the government declaring the four worst-hit areas in central and western Myanmar as “national disaster-affected regions”.
Scores have also died in India, Nepal, Pakistan and Vietnam following floods and landslides triggered by heavy seasonal rains.
Rescue work in Myanmar has been hampered by continued downpours and the inaccessibility of many of the remote regions worst hit by the deluges.
In Kalay, one of the worst-hit towns in the country’s north-west Sagaing region, floodwaters on Sunday reached the roofs of houses and above the height of some coconut trees.
An official at Myanmar’s Relief and Resettlement Department who asked not to be named said that at least 166,000 people have now been affected by the floods.
But the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the real figure was likely to be “significantly higher” because many areas “have still not been reached or reported on by assessment teams”.
OCHA said the official death toll of 27 was also likely an underestimate.
“As further information becomes available, this figure is also expected to increase,” the statement warned.
Seasonal monsoon rains have also brought death and destruction to other Asian nations.
About 20 people were feared dead after a hill collapsed onto a village in Manipur, north-east India on Saturday following incessant rain, an Indian magistrate said.
Rescuers were Sunday clawing through mud and debris searching for bodies as well as survivors of the accident in the remote village in Chandel district bordering Myanmar.
“So far we have reports of 20 people killed when a hillock caved and trapped the villagers,” magistrate Memi Mary said from Chandel town.
Torrential rain has triggered flooding elsewhere in India including Gujarat where the death toll has hit 53.
In Vietnam rescuers were battling toxic mudslides from flood-hit coal mines in the northern province of Quang Ninh.
Seventeen people have been killed in recent flooding including two families swallowed up by the toxic mud.
“In one second, mud and rock smashed into my house. We were lucky to escape with our daughter,” To Thi Huyen, a 37-year-old primary school teacher, said.
Inundations have also hit Pakistan with 109 killed and almost 700,000 affected by floods in the last two weeks while 36 people have perished in landslides in Nepal.
Two of the worst-hit areas in Myanmar are the remote and impoverished western states of Chin and Rakhine.
The Myanmar Red Cross Society said 300 homes in Rakhine had been destroyed or damaged, with around 1,500 people evacuated to shelters.
“The figures are expected to increase in the coming days as Red Cross assessment teams access remote areas of Rakhine affected by the flooding,” the agency’s head Maung Maung Khin said in a statement released Sunday.
Rakhine already hosts some 140,000 displaced people, mainly Rohingya Muslims, who live in exposed makeshift coastal camps following deadly 2012 unrest between the minority group and Buddhists.
State media also reported that the Chin state capital Haka had been rocked by landslides over the weekend destroying 60 homes, a number of key roads and seven bridges.
Rescue workers have been mobilised across the country but the sheer extent of the flooding is testing the government’s limited relief operations, officials admit.
Myanmar is annually struck by monsoon rains that are a lifeline for farmers, but the rains and frequent powerful cyclones can also prove deadly, with landslides and flash floods a common occurrence.
In May 2008 the then-ruling junta was strongly criticised for its slow response to Cyclone Nargis, which devastated the Irrawaddy Delta region and killed about 140,000 people.
* Agence France-Presse
Updated: August 2, 2015 04:00 AM