Cyclone Nargis devastates Myanmar; death toll staggering

Cyclone Nargis made landfall on May 2nd in the Irrawaddy River Delta region of Myanmar, a densely-populated and exceptionally low-lying area in the far southern part of the country. Details are only just becoming available as a result of the isolation imposed by the oppressive military junta that has controlled the flow of information in and out of the nation for more than four decades. The scope of the damage is immense–although images in the news media are currently showing mostly wind damage from capital city of Rangoon–which is not near the Bay of Bengal, where the vast majority of the incredible devastation has occurred. Nargis was a borderline Cat 3/4 storm at landfall (much like Katrina as it made landfall in LA) but crossed the coast at the worst possible angle–the right front quadrant (the strongest part of the storm) drove a storm surge onshore that may have been nearly 20  feet high. Keep in mind that nearly the entire delta region, which is home to 1-2 million people (or possibly more; population estimates are diffiicult in a country like Myanmar), lies below 30 feet MSL (and there are vast tracts of land lower than 10 feet). Certain states may have experienced near-total or even total inundation, and with very few tall or sufficiently sturdy structures to serve as shelters from the storm surge (not to mention winds gusting over 150 mph), the death toll has been extremely high. The official death toll from disasters in Myanmar tend to be grossy understated by government officials, sometimes by factors of 100. Currently, the official death toll stands at nearly 30,000, with an additional 50,000 reported missing. It is possible that the death toll from this storm may surpass 100,000, especially since aid has yet to arrive in Myanmar (4 days later) because the government refuses to allow Western nations (or even foreign aid workers) into the country.  News from areas that were ostensibly the hardest-hit (along the immediate coast) have yet to reach the outside world. Even if the death toll is capped near where it currently stands, this will have been one of the worst natural disasters (in terms of loss of life) in recent memory (overshadowed only by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, which claimed the lives of more than 230,000 across coastal Asia and East Africa). The relatively small area affected by the disaster, though, makes this enormous death toll even more staggering. More information about the disaster will probably trickle out of the region over the coming days.

Update: the following are some photographs of Chaiten Volcano in Chile erupting on Tuesday. These are some of the most spectacular images I have ever seen. A full update discussing the volcano, the cyclone in Myanmar, and a possibly upcoming heat wave will occur either Friday or Saturday.


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