Around 100 villages on Ramree Island, as well as the island's major town of Kyakpyu, have suffered severe damage after Cyclone Giri hit the Arakan coast on Friday with winds of up to 160 km (100 miles) per hour and waves as high as 3.6 meters (12 feet), according to local sources.
There are still no confirmed reports of casualties, although sources in the area said that dozens of villagers and fisherman are believed to have gone missing since the storm reached its peak at around 3 pm yesterday.
|Infared satellite close-up of the eye of Cyclone Giri as it hit Burma on Friday. (Source: Colorado State University)|
Power lines and telephone poles have also been badly damaged by the storm, making it difficult for many residents to get outside assistance.
“The whole town of Kyaukpyu has been hit hard,” a local resident told The Irrawaddy on Saturday. “There are fallen trees everywhere, and many houses right on the coast have been swept away. All the shops are closed, so there's nowhere to buy food or drinking water.”
A local government official confirmed the urgent need for emergency assistance, particularly in Kyaukpyu's Zone 11, an area with a population of around 10,000 that was directly in the path of the cyclone.
Besides food and water, the official said that many people in the area also need medical attention and construction materials to build temporary shelters.
There were no reported cases of damage to the major Burmese naval base located on Ramree, an island that has attracted growing international attention in recent years as the starting point of a gas and oil pipeline project that will link Kyaukpyu to Kunming, capital of China's Yunnan Province.
Meanwhile, Bangladeshi media reported on Saturday that more than 100 fishermen in 21 boats from Bangladesh have gone missing from the northeastern reaches of the Bay of Bengal since yesterday.
There have also been reports that around 70 foreign tourists have been stranded in the southern Arakan resort town of Ngapali due to the closure of the airport at Thandwe.
Unlike in May 2008, when the Burmese regime failed to warn residents of the Irrawaddy delta of the approach of Cyclone Nargis, the state-run media has provided extensive coverage of Cyclone Giri.
According to Burmese meteorologist Tun Lwin, Cyclone Giri has weakened since crossing the Rakhine mountain range, but continues to bring heavy rain to Magway and Mandalay divisions, which have already experienced severe flooding in recent weeks. The state media has also issued storm warnings for these areas.
UPDATE (as of 5:00 pm Saturday local time): According to the latest reports, at least 5,000 people in Kyaukpyu are now homeless as a result of extensive damage to the town. Sources said that the Red Cross in Kyaukpyu has arranged to provide 300 tents and 150 bags of rice to local residents.
Myebon Township, located between Kyaukpyu and the Arakan State capital of Sittwe, has been identified as the worst-hit area, although no details regarding casualties or damage have been made available.