May 5, 2008 / 2:02 PM / 11 years ago

Blackouts and shortages plague Yangon after storm

YANGON (Reuters) - Blackouts, water shortages, soaring food and fuel prices and despair gripped Myanmar’s biggest city of Yangon three days after a cyclone ripped across the Irrawaddy delta, killing thousands of people.

“The lights went out, we have no water,” said a local trader, washing in a lake in the former capital of five million people. “The storm destroyed so much, I have to take a bath here.”

Myanmar state television said close to 4,000 people were killed and nearly 3,000 missing in only two of the five areas declared disaster zones, a sharp increase from just hundreds of casualties reported earlier in the day.

As city residents surveyed the uprooted trees, severed telephone cables and mangled billboards on the streets, there was also anger at the military government, which has ruled the former Burma since 1962.

“Last time, they came here, just like ants, from where I don’t know,” said one man, comparing the reaction of security forces when they cracked down last September on Buddhist monk-led protests against the military junta.

“Now I can’t see any — no army, no police.”

Residents said the price of petrol has tripled since Friday, rising to $10 a litre. Queues of up to a kilometre long formed at filling stations and customers were limited to two litres each.

People carrying buckets and bottles lined up at artesian wells, others patched up damaged roofs with plastic sheets.

In one western suburb, a group of 100 monks led efforts to clear streets littered with fallen trees and debris from battered buildings, a witness said.

Food prices doubled overnight and there was no announcement of when the city’s already sporadic electricity supply would be restored.

Most shops had sold out of candles and batteries and there was no word when power would be restored.

Tourists said European embassies had advised them to leave because of expected food, fuel and water shortages across the country in coming weeks.

The city’s Bogyoke market, known for its gemstones and jewellery, had closed because of fears of looting. Rumours spread fast that the two biggest bottled water facilities had shut down.

“We’ve gone three days already without electricity or water, everything is at a standstill,” said a Muslim elder queuing for water outside a mosque.

In a city and a country that has grown accustomed to decades of hardships, the man said: “I haven’t seen it this bad in 50 years.”

Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Grant McCool and Sanjeev Miglani

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