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Myanmar's largest city struggles to recover from cyclone

A wrecked home by the Yangon River. Essential equipment like heavy machinery is in short supply or nowhere to be found.
(The New York Times)

Story:The inability of the government to clear debris and restore basic utilities like water and power in the country's wealthiest city are a measure of how difficult Myanmar's overall disaster recovery could be. The death toll in Yangon has been small compared with the devastation in the delta of the Irrawaddy River. The government counts fewer than 400 people killed here. But lines for rationed gasoline snake through the city for blocks. Drivers spend three or four hours at gasoline stations to buy two gallons of fuel, the daily allowance by the government. Generators hum everywhere. Buildings have lost roofs, facades. Essential equipment — chainsaws, machines capable of lifting heavy debris and helicopters, among many other necessary items — are in short supply or absent altogether. The U.S. embassy imported chainsaws from Thailand and Bangladesh. The Burma government has 12 helicopters, but only five of them are operational and able to transport supplies to far-flung locations. Basic construction materials are unavailable. "There are no nails to be found in Yangon." Thousands of trees lie where they fell, jetties on the Yangon River have collapsed into the water and only a few traffic lights are working across the city of five million people. Most of Yangon remains without electricity.

Cyclone had all the makings of a 'perfect storm'
Cyclone Nargis
became one of Asia's deadliest storms by hitting land at one of the lowest points in Myanmar and setting off a storm surge that reached 25 miles inland, its battering winds pushed a wall of water as high as 12 feet. "It was like Katrina going into New Orleans." Forecasters began tracking the cyclone April 28 as it first headed toward India. As projected, it took a sharp turn eastward, but didn't follow the typical cyclone track in that area leading to Bangladesh or Myanmar's mountainous northwest. Instead, it swept into the low-lying Irrawaddy delta in central Myanmar. "The easterly component of the path is UNUSUAL." The result was the worst disaster ever in the impoverished country. It was the first time such an intense storm hit the delta - it was "one of those ONCE-IN-EVERY-500-YEARS KIND OF THINGS." The delta had lost most of its mangrove forests along the coast to shrimp farms and rice paddies over the past decade. That removed what scientists say is one of nature's best defenses against violent storms.

Image Above:
This image provided by NASA's MODIS instrument on board the Terra satellite shows Cyclone Nargis as it approaches the coast of Bangladesh Thursday May 1, 2008. The cyclone brewing in the Bay of Bengal was expected to hit the south coast of Bangladesh late Friday with maximum significant wave heights of 21 feet before heading to Myanmar. At 08:00 GMT Friday May 2, 2008 Tropical Cyclone Nargis had sustained winds of 185 kilometers (115 miles) an hour, gusting to 230 kilometers (143 miles) per hour as it approached the coast of Myanmar, according to the U.S. Navy Joint Typhoon Warning Center. (AP Photo/NASA)

refusal to give visas to relief experts is "UNPRECEDENTED" in the history of humanitarian work, the UN says.
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