November 2, 2010 / 12:40 PM / 10 years ago

Myanmar storm killed dozens, 81,000 left homeless - U.N.

GENEVA (Reuters) - A cyclone that hit western Myanmar killed at least 45 and left 81,000 homeless, the United Nations said on Tuesday, providing details of damage and casualties from the storm that struck the secretive state last month.

Some 200,000 people will require food aid over the next three months after Cyclone Giri destroyed 40,000 acres of rice paddy, U.N. aid agencies said. Some 430 schools and 57 health centres in Myanmar were damaged or destroyed.

There was no immediate word on how the disaster and uprooting of voters might affect Sunday’s long-awaited election in the former Burma. Its military rules have threatened to cling to power if the public abstains in the poll, which critics say is a sham to cement the junta’s iron-fisted control.

“The government has confirmed 45 deaths to date, while at least 10 people remain missing and 49 were injured,” Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told a news briefing in Geneva.

Cyclone Giri struck Myanmar’s west coast near the town of Kyaukphyu on October 22, causing a tidal surge and winds, but the military government only reported one death at the time, a girl killed by a falling tree.

Myanmar authorities have requested plastic tarpaulins to provide shelter for the 81,000 people left homeless after at least 15,000 houses were completely destroyed, Byrs said.

U.N. aid agencies have begun distributing food and are to send roofing materials, blankets and mosquito nets in the coming days. The four affected townships were Myebon, Pauktaw, Kyaukpyu and Minbya along the western coast of Rakhine state.

Myebon was hardest hit, with 100,000 people needing health assistance, according to the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

“An estimated 200,000 people will require food assistance for the coming three months,” UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado told reporters.

The figure was based on a preliminary assessment carried out by Myanmar health authorities, UNICEF and the U.N. World Health Organisation.

Coastal and delta regions in the Southeast Asian country are often hit by strong storms. More than 130,000 people were killed or went missing when Cyclone Nargis struck the Irrawaddy delta in May 2008.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay

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