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Death toll doubles, to 78,000

Children line up for water on the outskirts of Yangon Friday. With aid barely flowing, the country is now entering monsoon season.

Associated Press

Children line up for water on the outskirts of Yangon Friday. With aid barely flowing, the country is now entering monsoon season.

YANGON, Myanmar — The official death toll nearly doubled to 78,000 from Myanmar's killer cyclone as heavy rains Friday lashed much of the area stricken two weeks ago, further hampering relief efforts.

Aid workers shackled by the country's military regime struggled to get the most basic data about the needs of up to 2.5-million survivors. The Red Cross warned that a lack of clean water may swell the ranks of the dead.

Myanmar state television said the official death count from the May 3 cyclone was 77,738, with 55,917 others missing. The TV announcement suggested it might be close to a final figure.

The release of the figures led to dire warnings from the United Nations and renewed calls for the military regime to allow international aid workers access to devastated areas.

Myanmar's ruling junta put up a security cordon around Yangon to restrict travel to the Irrawaddy delta, where scenes of devastation were rife.

A small tour to the disaster zone arranged for today will give diplomats their first up-close look at the effects of the cyclone and at the government relief effort.

John Holmes, U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, was to go to Myanmar on Sunday in an attempt to persuade the junta to admit more U.N. relief workers and to greatly increase aid efforts, said Amanda Pitt, a U.N. spokeswoman.

The junta maintains it has the situation under control. But after two weeks, the U.N. remains largely in the dark.

Myanmar is entering the monsoon season and disaster experts warn the wet weather could complicate relief efforts. Aid groups have reached only 270,000 people so far.

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Trying to help

France criticized Myanmar for refusing to allow its Navy ship with 1,500 tons of aid to deliver food and medicine with small boats and helicopters. Myanmar's U.N. ambassador accused the French of dispatching an uninvited "warship."

Southeast Asian countries, scrambling to show they can lead the aid effort, plan a meeting Monday at which Myanmar will be confronted over the slow aid response.

Death toll doubles, to 78,000 05/16/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 1:59pm]
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