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Cablegate: Burma: Cyclone Nargis Sitrep No. 1

VZCZCXRO5427
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH RUEHTRO
DE RUEHGO #0319/01 1261340
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 051340Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY RANGOON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7484
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHGG/UN SECURITY COUNCIL COLLECTIVE
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 1119
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 4666
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 8207
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 5769
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 3637
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 1521
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 RANGOON 000319

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

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

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAID BM
SUBJECT: BURMA: CYCLONE NARGIS SITREP NO. 1

REF: A. RANGOON 310
B. RANGOON 315
C. RANGOON 317

1. (SBU) Summary. All Embassy facilities suffered some
damage from Cyclone Nargis on May 3, five residences are
currently without water, and one residence has been rendered
uninhabitable. Post is working to secure fuel and food
supplies for facilities and personnel, and has requested
authorized departure for family members. We have received no
reports of major injuries or deaths among American citizens
in Rangoon. The GOB has acknowledged the deaths of 10,000
people throughout the country, but downplays the extent of
damage to Rangoon. Reports from local citizens, however,
indicate otherwise fuel and water shortages, adding to
hardships, price gouging, and people angry at the lack of
preparedness and response by the GOB. End Summary.

Embassy Operations
------------------

2. (SBU) Embassy Rangoon continues to assess damage to
facilities, as well as the immediate needs of the Embassy
community. At a Town Hall for American staff, the management
section outlined its initial priorities: assessment and
clean-up of damage to Embassy facilities, distribution of
fuel to Embassy homes and buildings, assessment of food and
water supplies. We also discussed seeking authorized
departure of family members, and monitoring the welfare of
other American citizens in the country.

3. (SBU) Currently, there are at least five Embassy homes
without adequate water, including the Chief of Mission and
DCM residences. The storm blew the roof off of one residence,
rendering it uninhabitable. Management and GSO continue to
work to clear fallen trees and debris from facilities.

4. (SBU) Management reported Post had not received all of the
fuel supplies it had ordered. We currently have 3,200
gallons of high octane fuel and 6,600 gallons of diesel.
Embassy took delivery of five truckloads of diesel on May 5,
but was informed later that only two truckloads of the five
we expected May 6 would be delivered. GSO is refueling
residential generators subject to supplies and access, and is
following up with Petronas to determine the status of future
fuel shipments. The current promised shipments should
sustain the mission for up to one month, operating
continuously on generators.

5. (SBU) RSO and DAO expressed concern about the ability of
government authorities to maintain law and order, if citywide
shortages of fuel, water, and food prove prolonged, and DAO
reported isolated incidences of looting in Rangoon.

6. (SBU) Post has requested M approve the Authorized
Departure of family members from Rangoon until the situation
stabilizes and fuel, water, and food supplies return to
normal. Seats on departing flights remain scarce, but GSO
contacts report that Thai Airways will try to add a flight to
its schedule to take additional people out of Burma.

7. (SBU) Over the weekend, Embassy officers canvassed the
city to locate American citizens living in Rangoon. Our
search revealed that while many suffer the electricity,
communication, and fuel shortages caused by the storm, none
reported injuries or deaths nor requested emergency
assistance. The Embassy will hold a Town Hall meeting for
official and non-official Americans on May 6. Conoff drafted
a Travel Alert for Consular Affairs approval.

Situation on the Ground in Rangoon
----------------------------------

8. (SBU) In a meeting with diplomats on May 5, the Ministry
of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Information, and the
Ministry of Social Welfare reported the death of 10,000

RANGOON 00000319 002 OF 002


people as a result of the cyclone's passage through Burma.
They also stated 3,000 people were still missing. They
reported major destruction in the Irrawaddy Delta, including
the collapse of 95 percent of buildings. However, the
Minister of Social Welfare asserted Rangoon was "not severely
hurt; not very big damage." He claimed that one third of the
city already had restored electricity and water supplies.

9. (SBU) The situation that Embassy personnel witnessed on
the streets differed considerably from the Ministers. Many
residents complained that the effects of the storm were
exacerbated by the GOB's failure to warn of the coming
cyclone and instruct citizens on how to prepare for it
adequately. The vast majority of people were unprepared for
such a disaster. Locals did not fail to point out to Embassy
personnel that the soldiers who seemed so enthusiastic in the
crackdown in September hesitated to help with meaningful
clean-up and relief activities.

10. Trees and power lines are down throughout the city with
most Burmese expecting repairs will take months. During a
Town Hall meeting with the Embassy FSNs, they complained that
their government had offered no information or assistance.
One FSN noted that local officials visited him three times to
solicit his vote of approval of the regime's constitution,
but now was nowhere to be found. Most FSNs reported losing
their roofs and increasing problems getting enough water.
Since they are getting no news from government officials,
they asked for more information from the shortwave
broadcasters (VOA, RFA, DVB, BBC) about what to do during
disasters, warning of fire hazards as candle use rises, how
to make water safe, and other health advice.

11. (SBU) As a result of the cyclone, prices of fuel -
gasoline and diesel - and basic food commodities have
increased dramatically, putting the financial squeeze on many
Burmese. Black market prices of gasoline increased 54
percent, from 5,200 kyat ($4.70) a gallon to 8,000 kyat
($7.20) a gallon, while diesel prices rose 72 percent from
5,800 kyat ($5.20) a gallon to 10,000 kyat ($9.00) a gallon.
Food and water prices have also increased dramatically, due
to lower supply, increased demand, and higher transportation
costs. The most in-demand products are drinking water,
cooking oil, and rice. Potable water prices rose 233
percent, from 300 kyat ($0.27) to 1000 kyat ($90) a liter;
cooking oil prices rose 45 percent, from 4,500 kyat ($4.00)
to 6,500 kyat ($5.90) for a two liter bottle; and rice prices
increased 25 percent, from 24,000 kyat ($21.80) to 30,000
kyat ($27.27) a bag. Vendors predict that prices will
decrease over the next few days, as the government restores
supply lines and the Regional Commander steps in to control
prices. However, as long as fuel prices remain high, prices
of water and basic food commodities will be higher than
pre-cyclone levels (to be reported septel).

12. (SBU) As initial reports of looting and arguments over
fuel and food start to trickle in, fears have risen that the
security situation throughout the city could deteriorate over
time. People are desperate to feed their families, repair
roofs on their houses, and perform basic hygiene. The
competition for scarce commodities has not only already
driven up prices, but may also spark violence among citizens
and between citizens and security forces.
VILLAROSA

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