7 Rescuers Die as Floods Sweep Central Burma

By Zarni Mann 20 July 2015

MANDALAY — Severe flooding in central Burma has killed seven rescue workers and displaced thousands of villagers as unusually heavy rains swept through the region over the weekend.

Inn Daw, Kawlin, Kantbalu, Kyun Hla and Butalin townships of Sagaing Division were thrashed by rains throughout the past week, as rains hit the low lying farmlands nonstop since last Tuesday.

“The water levels of the Mae Za and Mu rivers rose up and the floods worsened on Saturday as nearby dam [reservoirs] overflowed,” an official from the Sagaing Division administrative office told The Irrawaddy, requesting not to be named.

According to the official, at least 150 villages across five townships were affected, displacing more than six thousand people and damaging as many as 30,000 farm plots. The total deaths have not yet been tallied, though seven rescue workers died while trying to retrieve trapped villagers, he said.

“The rescuers had to swim to the victims and move them to a safer place,” he said, adding that the body of one man had been found while the others are still missing and presumed to have drowned. “The current is so strong that some of them drifted away.”

Flooding in the area has brought transportation to a standstill, further complicating rescue operations. Several key bridges have collapsed, while railway tracks and roads have become impassable under several feet of water.

Trains running from Mandalay and Myitkyina were postponed, leaving dozens of travelers stranded at the Kawlin railway station. Buses connecting Kawlin, Kyun Hla, Kantbalu, Inn Daw and Butalin with Mandalay have also been postponed.

Hla Kyaw, who runs a bus service from Mandalay to Kyun Hla out of the Mandalay highway bus terminal said the schedules will not be back to normal until roads are clear and bridges are repaired.

Rescuers and other volunteers have rushed to makeshift shelters set up in schools and monasteries to provide food and medical assistance, while President Thein Sein and army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing made an emergency visit to Kantbalu to assess the situation.

According to the administrative official, the president and commander observed the levels at the Min Myin, Thaphanseit and several other reservoirs, later meeting with some of the flood victims in an emergency shelter.

Monastic grounds are typically on high grounds, though the sheer volume of rain has left even those locations inundated. One displaced villager, Thida of Kyun Hla Township, described the frenzied scene.

“The monastery is also nearly overrun with water. Buddhist monks, firemen and police helped us to get out from our deluged homes. We saw helicopters flying over our heads to look for victims,” she recalled.

“We are worried that more rain might pour down and make the situation worse.”

Flash floods have also struck other parts of the country in recent days. Moe Kaung Township in Kachin State and Tagaung Township in Mandalay also suffered severe floods this week.

Burma’s Meteorology Department forecast on Sunday that more heavy rains are expected in upper Mandalay and Sagaing divisions over the coming days.