35 Dead in Arakan State After Cyclone Komen Drowns Coast

By Moe Myint 3 August 2015

RANGOON — At least 35 people have died due to recent flooding in western Burma’s Arakan State alone, according to the state’s information department, as the cumulative death toll continues to rise across the country’s inundated central plain.

Arakan State Information Department Director Hla Thein told The Irrawaddy on Monday that dozens are known to have died and six people are still unaccounted for in the northern reaches of the state, near the border with Bangladesh.

“The numbers will change later because we are still investigating,” Hla Thein said on Monday afternoon.

Cyclone Komen narrowly missed the state when it made landfall late last week, though the storm dropped heavy rainfall on the impoverished state. The full extent of the damage has not yet been assessed as disparate numbers of dead and displaced roll in.

In a Facebook post on Monday afternoon, Hla Thein said a total of 5,979 houses had been damaged and more than 7,000 paddy fields destroyed. Dozens of schools and monasteries throughout the state were also greatly destroyed.

Mrauk U resident Maung Chay said his relatives had rushed to nearby Than Thayar village to assist those whose houses had been completely submerged. According to his relatives, “Than Thayar village was underwater and only a few people are still alive.”

Further north in Kyauktaw Township, which is home to a number of remote camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), thousands remained at risk as rescuers struggled to provide emergency medical care and food.

More than 100,000 IDPs have been displaced since inter-communal violence broke out between the state’s Buddhist and Muslim communities in 2012, most of them stateless Rohingya Muslims who are still confined to the camps.

“Food shortages are the main problem,” said Dr. Tun Aye, who has been coordinating deliveries to about 10 camps and several nearby villages whose supplies had been drowned and spoiled by the downpour. He estimated that between 60 and 80 villages had suffered serious damages to crops and stored foodstuffs.

“It will be terribly difficult to return to normal, everything was ruined within a few hours,” he said.

Volunteers said they had observed a storm surge of about eight to 10 feet, approximately what was forecast by the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology late last week.

Director of the Arakan Social Network, Khin Zaw Win said thousands of people have been evacuated to emergency shelters as their homes filled up with water. The biggest priorities for flood victims right now are clean water, rice, paddy seeds and clothing, he said.

Reports have surfaced that some traders have jacked up the prices on basic goods in the wake of the disaster. The state’s Ethnic Affairs Minister Zaw Aye Maung said the price of white rice has gone from its usual US$20 per 50 kilogram sack to a staggering $50-80.

Zaw Aye said the Rangoon Regional Government had taken measures to avoid price gouging by subsidizing the ministry’s purchase of some 30,000 bags of rice at market prices from the Myanmar Rice Federation, which it will resell at local markets for $20 per sack.

Two well-known monasteries—Alo Daw Phyae and Yadana Man Aung— are also contributing to relief efforts, he said.

Heavy rains throughout western, central and southern Burma have devastated farms and villages in recent weeks, leaving dozens dead as of Monday afternoon. Officials said the toll is expected to rise.

In the past week alone, several regions in Burma have been hit by torrential rains which have left at least 27 people dead. Some 200,000 others are believed to be directly affected by the downpour.

The President’s Office on Friday designated Chin and Arakan states, Magwe and Sagaing divisions as disaster zones.

Elsewhere in the region, local media reports said an entire village was wiped away by a landslide in Manipur, Northeast India over the weekend leaving an estimated 20 people dead. More than 100 people have died so far in India as a result of the storm, according to The Associated Press.

High death tolls are expected to soon emerge from Bangladesh, as well, where Komen made landfall on Thursday before weakening and moving northwest.