YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar's monumental task of feeding and sheltering 1.5-million cyclone survivors suffered yet another blow Sunday when a boat laden with relief supplies — one of the first international shipments — sank on its way to the disaster zone.
The death toll jumped by about 5,000 to more than 28,000, and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband warned that "malign neglect" by the isolated nation's military rulers was creating a "humanitarian catastrophe of genuinely epic proportions."
The junta has been sharply criticized for its handling of the May 3 disaster, from failing to provide adequate warnings about the pending storm to responding slowly to offers of help.
Though international assistance has started trickling in, the few foreign relief workers who have been allowed entry into Myanmar have been restricted to the largest city of Yangon.
But in what was seen as a huge concession by the junta, the United States finally got the go-ahead to send a C-130 cargo plane packed with supplies to Yangon today, with two more air shipments scheduled to land Tuesday.
Highlighting the many challenges ahead, a Red Cross boat carrying rice, drinking water and other goods for more than 1,000 people sank Sunday near the hard-hit town of Bogalay. All four aid workers on board were safe.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies could not say how much of the cargo has been lost, but it said the food supplies were contaminated by river water.
Heavy showers were forecast for the coming week, further complicating delivery of aid.
On Sunday, Myanmar's state television said the death toll from Cyclone Nargis had gone up by about 5,000 to 28,458 — with 33,416 missing — though some experts said it could be 15 times that if people do not get clean water and sanitation soon.
"I would be amazed if there hadn't been about 100,000 who had died already … what's more, hundreds of thousands more are at risk," Miliband said.
Meanwhile, aid was piling up in foreign countries, awaiting approval from the junta. Relief was increasingly getting through, but on "nowhere near the scale required," the Red Cross said.
The country's main airport in Yangon is incapable of handling more than five flights a day, when it should be taking in at least one every hour, said PLAN, a children's aid group in London.
The junta released 38 tons of high-energy biscuits that were confiscated Friday and several other shipments were on their way. It says it wants to hand out all donated supplies on its own.