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Storm rescue still stalled

BANGKOK, Thailand — Monsoon winds and rain whipped through Myanmar's Irrawaddy River delta on Wednesday, compounding the misery for at least 1.6-million survivors of this month's deadly cyclone and spawning fresh appeals from the international community for immediate access to the disaster zone.

Myanmar's military rulers continued to reject on-the-ground help from the outside world, despite warnings from experts that water-borne diseases and the government's lackluster aid efforts could lead to an even greater humanitarian catastrophe.

The International Committee of the Red Cross issued a new death toll estimate of between 68,833 and 127,990, noting the numbers involved "pooling and extrapolating information" from 22 organizations. However, most aid groups have had only limited access to much of the disaster zone. The Myanmar government's latest death count is 38,491.

The Red Cross also estimated that between 1.6-million and 2.5-million people had been affected by the cyclone and its aftermath, and said huge numbers had yet to be reached by rescuers.

The Myanmar government has said it is capable of managing relief operations on its own and gave Thailand's prime minister, Samak Sundaravraj, a "guarantee" that there would be no outbreak of disease nor would survivors of the disaster go hungry.

Aid workers say reports from the waterlogged delta painted a far graver picture, describing desperate scenes of people on the move in search of food and shelter.

Aid organizations say their foreign staffers are being restricted to Yangon, the main city, which was also ravaged by Cyclone Nargis. The United Nations said the government continued to issue a limited number of visas to foreign aid workers, approving some of the 60 requests early this week for specialists. Some of the visas permitted only a one-week stay.

The laggardly pace of the rescue effort led U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to convene a special meeting of major powers and Southeast Asian nations Wednesday to devise a strategy for prying the country open to foreign help.

Storm rescue still stalled 05/14/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 1:57pm]
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