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Cablegate: Burma: Preparations for Cyclone Nargis

VZCZCXRO4599
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH RUEHTRO
DE RUEHGO #0306/01 1231004
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 021004Z MAY 08 ZDK
FM AMEMBASSY RANGOON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7457
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHGG/UN SECURITY COUNCIL COLLECTIVE
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 1099
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 4646
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 8187
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 5749
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 3622
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 1501
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 RANGOON 000306

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR USAID/OFDA, EAP/MLS, AND S/ES-O-CMS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAID BM
SUBJECT: BURMA: PREPARATIONS FOR CYCLONE NARGIS

RANGOON 00000306 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary: Cyclone Nargis is headed for Burma's
Irrawaddy Delta and expected to make landfall this evening.
Embassy Rangoon has issued warden messages and phoned coastal
beach resorts. The DATT's office is attempting to establish
direct contact with the regional commander of the effected
area through their military liaison. Post is also in contact
with the Myanmar Red Cross and United Nations officials
coordinating possible international responses. The GOB has
traditionally declined international assistance, as they did
after the 2004 Tsunami. We expect the regime to be
especially averse to accepting foreign assistance at this
time, due to the political sensitivities surrounding the
upcoming constitutional referendum. End summary.

2. (SBU) Cyclone Nargis is headed for Burma's Irrawaddy
Delta and expected to make landfall at approximately 1830
today. Our latest information indicates Nargis's path is
headed very close to Rangoon. The storm's wind speed is down
to 115 knots per hour and it is expected to lose strength
when it hits land. Nargis is projected to have sustained
wind of up to 70 knots by the time it hits Rangoon. Embassy
Rangoon has issued warden messages and phoned Beach resorts
on the West Coast to warn American tourists of the incoming
storm. Most beach resorts have already closed due to the
start of the rainy season.

3. (SBU) Burma's last major cyclone occurred in May, 2004,
in Rakhine State, although other smaller ones have hit,
including one last year. 17 people were killed but flooding
affected almost 70,000 people. The Military's regional
commanders are responsible for coordinating relief and
security measures for natural disasters in their areas, along
with the Myanmar Red Cross. The DATT's office has
established contact with their military liaison officer, who
asked for a formal request in writing to establish a direct
liaison with the military commanders of the effected areas.
They have not received a reply so far. Myanmar Red Cross
representatives told us that the Department of Metrology and
Hydrology had alerted Township General Administration Offices
where the storm was likely to strike. The Township offices
were instructed to prepare and coordinate with local NGOs,
including the Red Cross. Some townships have already done
this. The Myanmar Red Cross is also in touch with the local
office of the International Federation of the Red Cross,
which is expected to take a lead role in any international
humanitarian response, in cooperation with the United
Nations.

4. (SBU) There have been some notices in the paper of the
impending storm, and we were informed today that all domestic
flights have been canceled for Saturday, May 3. The only
domestic flights leaving Rangoon today are to Mandalay, where
the GOB has decided to move all airplanes. The United
Nations is in contact with its relevant operational partners
to track the situation as it develops over the weekend and
assess impact and damage from the storm. If needed, they
will convene an emergency coordination meeting to evaluate
the situation and a possible response.

5. (SBU) The UN expects the Irrawaddy Delta region to be hit
hard, possibly resulting in major damage to rice crops. The
local United Nations Response Coordinator, Julie Belanger,
told pol/econ chief today that given Burma's poor
communication infrastructure and the regime's penchant for
secrecy, it may take a few days to access storm damage and
resulting needs. Belanger noted the cyclone was hitting at
the worst possible time, immediately before the regime's May
10 constitutional referendum. Paranoia and secrecy are at an
all-time high, and she fears the regime may even refuse the
UN travel permission to assess storm damage.

6. (SBU) Comment: The GOB traditionally has turned down
international assistance, as it did after the 2004 Tsunami
and after a cyclone and major flooding last year. We agree
with Belanger that the regime may be especially averse to
international assistance at what they consider a politically
sensitive time. To better assess the situation, we will

RANGOON 00000306 002 OF 002


maintain contact with the UN and local NGO Metta, which was
allowed access to areas in the Irrawaddy Delta after the
Tsunami that foreigners were forbidden to visit. Post will

SIPDIS
keep State Ops, CMS, and OFDA posted regarding damage
assessments. End comment.
VILLAROSA

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