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Published June 12, 2024

Myanmar cyclone victim takes solace in new baby

>KAW HMU, Myanmar (AP) – As the waters rose around her house, Ohn Tay grabbed her 8-year-old son and scrambled to safety. Hours later, she gave birth to a baby girl.

Her husband is missing, but the young mother and her children are safe – crammed into a Buddhist monastery with a leaky roof, along with 150 other survivors, half of them children.

With homes flattened and loved ones missing, the people of Myanmar’s coastal heartland have little to take comfort in. Ohn Tay counts herself among the lucky ones – she has a newborn to cradle amid so much death and destruction.

“My baby stays with me here. I try to keep her from getting wet, but it’s hard at night when there is no room to move around and when it rains,” said the new mother, pointing at the roof, half of it torn away by the storm. The limited area that is protected means that some of the refugees must sleep sitting up.

Cyclone Nargis struck Saturday with a fury not seen before in Myanmar’s modern history, unleashing 120-mph winds and 12-foot storm surges that left vast expanses of the densely populated Irrawaddy delta submerged under flood waters.

More than 65,000 people are dead or missing in the region, with fears the death toll will top 100,000. More than a million people have been left homeless.

Kaw Hmu, a town about 60 miles southwest of Yangon, was lucky – there are no confirmed deaths yet, though some residents are missing. People know that in towns not far away, hundreds of people perished. An Associated Press reporting team reached the area Thursday after driving for three hours across rutted roads from the former capital.

When the cyclone struck in the middle of the night, a pregnant Ohn Tay grabbed her son and fled their hut to higher ground.

“The water rose higher and higher. My husband wasn’t there, so I carried my son,” she said, hugging the boy. Her husband is still missing.

When the winds receded, she found her house completely flattened, like most of her neighbors’ homes, and the family’s rice field flooded.

“Some people are lucky. They lost their roofs but they still have the structure of the homes,” said Din Aung Than, Ohn Tay’s father. “But we don’t have anything left to fix at all. And we don’t have material to rebuild with.”

In a corner of the monastery on Thursday, children slurped up curry-flavored soup with a few spoonfuls of rice as monks chatted with refugees nearby.

She We, looking tired and dirty, noted she had not seen anything like this storm in all her 99 years.

“But we are lucky. We heard that in the next town, hundreds of people died,” said the frail-looking woman, wearing the country’s traditional long sarong-like skirt, her white hair tied in a bun.

Pointing to the clusters of children, their faces slathered with a white paste that serves as a homemade sunscreen, a man interjected: “We still have our babies.”

She We’s daughter, Daw Thay, sat surrounded by her three young children.

“My children were crying all night. There is not enough food. There will be no food this evening,” the 42-year-old woman said.

The monks, who depend on people’s donations, are going without, giving their meager rations to the children and the elderly, “but there isn’t enough,” Daw Thay said.

Even though the town is relatively accessible by land from Yangon, the country’s biggest city, and military trucks can be seen traversing the area, not enough food is coming in. The soldiers have been cutting away trees, repairing bridges and dragging away the carcasses of dead water buffalos and other animals, but have not distributed much food.

“The soldiers came once yesterday with food,” said Daw Thay. They gave each person two cups of rice and said it had to last for the next seven days.

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