Myanmar cyclone death toll exceeds 22,000

YANGON, Myanmar (CNN) -- A Myanmar government radio station said Tuesday that more than 22,000 people are dead and 41,000 missing after the catastrophic cyclone that battered the country.

A news broadcast on the state-run station said Tuesday that 22,464 people had been confirmed dead after Cyclone Nargis. The broadcast added that 41,000 more were missing.

The U.N. estimated up to a million could be homeless.

China's state-run Xinhua news agency, quoting officials, reported a death toll of 10,000 alone in the township of Bogalay.

CNN's Dan Rivers, the first Western journalist in Bogalay, said Tuesday that bodies were being dropped into rivers.

Rivers said destroyed homes could be seen for 30 kilometer stretches. In one area only four homes remained from a total of 369. People were sheltering under canvas sheets.

He reported they had little food bar a small amount of eggs and rice. The area's rice mills had been destroyed, leaving Bogalay with a five-day supply. Water pumps were also ruined, and fuel was scarce.

Rivers had seen the army and Red Cross in the area, but the weather remained awful and conditions were miserable.

The aftermath has pushed Myanmar's normally secretive ruling military junta to ask for aid and release details of the devastation. However, the U.N. said its aid workers were still waiting for visas to enter the country. It, the Red Cross and other aid organizations have been gathering supplies to ship to the country.

U.S. President George Bush Tuesday called on the military junta to allow it to help with disaster assistance.

Bush, who made the comments while signing legislation awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to Myanmar democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi, said the U.S. was ready to "come and help."

"The United States has made an initial aid contribution, but we want to do a lot more," Bush said.

"We are prepared to move U.S. Navy assets to help find those who have lost their lives, to help find the missing, and help stabilize the situation. But in order to do so, the military Junta must allow our disaster assessment teams into the country."

The U.S. Navy is making preparations to respond to any requests for assistance, U.S. military officials told CNN. The Navy has calculated it would take its nearest ships four days sailing time to get to the affected area.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino later seemed to back away from Bush's hard line over the access of assessment teams.

Asked if the United States would refuse to help Myanmar if U.S. teams were not allowed to evaluate the situation, she said: "The president and Mrs. Bush have set the standard of putting aside political differences and getting help to people in need. And that's exactly what we would do here."

The problem thus far, she said, was that Washington had "not heard back from the government [of Myanmar] and we would ... hope to hear from them soon."

Maung Maung Swe, Myanmar's social welfare minister, earlier told reporters that the country needed aid now, The Associated Press reported.

"Instead of waiting for figures on casualties and damage, it will be practical to send humanitarian aid to victims as soon as possible," Swe said.

He revealed that that 95 percent of the homes in Bogalay -- a city of 190,000 -- had been destroyed, AFP reported.

"Many people were killed in a 12-foot tidal wave," Swe said.

The U.N. World Food Program (WFP), which was preparing to fly in food supplies, offered a grim assessment of the destruction: up to a million people possibly homeless, some villages almost totally destroyed and vast rice-growing areas wiped out, AP reported.

"We hope to fly in more assistance within the next 48 hours," WFP spokesman Paul Risley said from Bangkok. "The challenge will be getting to the affected areas with road blockages everywhere."

Based on a satellite map made available by the U.N., the storm's damage was concentrated over about a 30,000 square-kilometer area along the Andaman Sea and Gulf of Martaban coastlines, which is home to nearly a quarter of Myanmar's 57 million people.

Kyi Minn, of the international aid group World Vision, told CNN that the situation was bleak.

"It could be worse than [the] tsunami," Minn said, comparing the cyclone's impact on Myanmar to the damage caused following the tsunami that struck the region in late 2004. The tsunami was triggered by a a massive earthquake off the coast of Indonesia and killed more than 150,000 across the region.

Minn said clean drinking water, food, medicine and shelter were all at a premium.

Shari Villarosa, the top U.S. diplomat in Myanmar, told CNN that urgent help was needed.

"The situation is very bad and not getting better," said Villarosa

Villarosa said many in the international community wanted to help but were still waiting for the Myanmar government to grant their relief teams visa.

Nargis pummeled Yangon for more than 10 hours from Friday night into Saturday, with 20 inches of rain and winds above 240 km/hr.

While Myanmar's ruling military junta has been accused by U.S. first lady Laura Bush of not warning the public about the approaching cyclone, witnesses say state media did report the storm -- it just came too late.

"We did get a warning, but it seems the military warned at a late stage," an Australian witness in Yangon told CNN, adding there was no time for people to evacuate or buy emergency supplies.

She also said that perhaps "a lot of Burmese didn't take it as seriously as they could have."

MRTV disputed media accounts of insufficient warnings ahead of the storm.

"Timely weather reports were announced and aired" on TV and radio two to three days in advance to keep people "safe and secure," an MRTV anchor reported.

Video from the scene showed residents in some areas hacking their way through downed trees and trudging through knee-deep, swirling brown water. Thousands of tropical trees had been ripped up and thrown down, some into roadways.

Terje Skavdal, of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs, called it a "major crisis."

"It is a major undertaking to get it right for the government," Skavdal told CNN in an interview from Bangkok, Thailand. "There is a major job ahead of us."

As the international community prepared a response, survivors faced the chaos the disaster caused.

Most telephone and cell phone service was down in Yangon, a city of about 6.5 million people, Rivers said earlier Tuesday before traveling to Bogalay.

In some places, the price of fuel had quadrupled to $10 a gallon in the wake of the storm, he said. Even with that price lines for gas stretched around the block and some were turning to the black market.

The price of eggs had doubled, the main water supply had been cut in many areas and power lines were down, Rivers said.

"No food. No water," an exasperated man told him. "So you have to find everything."

Residents of one small community told Rivers that the army had been through to clear the main road but had not helped with recovery efforts.

A U.N. humanitarian official told CNN a five-person disaster assistance coordination team had arrived in Bangkok, but they would not know until later on Tuesday when they could enter Myanmar.

Another U.N. group said that simply getting visas for aid workers to enter Myanmar was a challenge. Visas were only available through the foreign ministry in Myanmar's main city Yangon, the United Nations Joint Logistics Centre said.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said it had released $190,000 to help with the aftermath of the storm, the European Commission has pledged $3.1 million, Canada $2 million, China $1 million in aid including relief materials worth $500,000 and Thailand $100,000.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy in Myanmar has issued a "disaster declaration" in the country and authorized the release of $250,000 for cyclone relief efforts, Deputy State Department spokesman Tom Casey said. A disaster relief team was on standby, he said, but the Myanmar government had not given permission for the team to enter the country.

The State Department issued a travel warning Monday night, authorizing the departure of non-emergency U.S. personnel at the embassy and warning American citizens to "strongly consider" departing Myanmar.

The country's state radio said Saturday's vote on a military-backed draft constitution would be delayed until May 24 in 40 of 45 townships in the Yangon area and seven in the Irrawaddy delta, AP reported.

The constitutional referendum is referred to in the state-run media as the fourth step of a "seven-step road map to democracy."

The government has said elections will be held in 2010 to choose a representative government to replace the military junta.

Myanmar, traditionally known as Burma, last held multi-party elections in 1990, when Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy handily won. The military junta ignored the results.

The regime has come under intense international pressure, especially after using force last year to suppress a pro-democracy movement.

--CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

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