Burmese Quake Toll ‘Over 150’

The death toll from the earthquake in Burma is much greater than feared with more than 150 people killed in the disaster, eyewitness reports suggest.

Puenkham Payakwong, a Tachilek native who works as a reporter for the Shan Herald News Agency, told the Bangkok Post that more than 150 people were killed, double the official toll of 75.

He also described a chaotic scene where relief efforts were failing to reach people, some of whom were running short of rice and water.

“The casualties are much higher than the official figure,” he said.

“Many people are still missing and their relatives have been trying in vain to search for their loved ones,” he said in a phone interview from Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district.

“Many houses have been destroyed and villagers have to stay at monasteries or on roads,” said the Shan reporter.

He said drinking water and rice were needed the most.

Foreign aid agencies had set up their units far away from the affected area, so it was hard for people to reach relief supplies.

Burma puts the official number of deaths at 75, but that is widely expected to rise as authorities move into remote areas which were cut off by road closures.

More than 240 buildings are said to have collapsed on the Burmese side of the border.

One Thai woman was also killed in Mae Sai, and more than 100 people were injured in areas close to the epicentre, according to official estimates.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, meanwhile, has ordered an overhaul of Thailand’s disaster warning system.

And in line with that effort, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration says it will write tsunami preparedness measures into the capital’s emergency response plan.

The prime minister yesterday said he acknowledged His Majesty the King’s concern over the reliability of the country’s natural disaster warning operations.

PM’s Office Minister Sathit Wongnongtoey would review the disaster warning system to find any flaws, and work with state agencies to fix them, Mr Abhisit said.

Mr Abhisit will today inspect the National Disaster Warning Centre in Nonthaburi province, where he will chair a teleconference with governors from earthquake-risk provinces including Chiang Rai, Phrae and Nan.

The governor of Nakhon Si Thammarat will also report to Mr Abhisit on the flood disaster in the southern provinces.

Mr Sathit said details of the revised warning plan would be tabled for cabinet discussion tomorrow.

“We’ve made [disaster warning and preparedness] a national agenda item. The nation has to take the matter seriously,” he said.

Bangkok Governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra said City Hall would also overhaul Bangkok’s disaster preparedness plan.

“The revised plan will include tsunami warning because there are so many unpredictable incidents these days,” he said.

“Bangkok has 4.7km coastline, so we should prepare for tidal waves.”

The governor also vowed to conduct a citywide inspection of high-rises in the capital to ensure they were earthquake-proof.

“We haven’t taken the earthquake issue seriously when building high-rises in Bangkok because few people think the risk is real,” he said.

Public Health Minister Jurin Laksanavisit has told executives of hospitals in earthquake-risk provinces to prepare patient evacuation plans in case disaster strikes. Fourteen hospitals in the northern provinces were slightly damaged by the earthquake, which was followed by dozens of aftershocks.

Thailand yesterday donated three million baht to help the earthquake victims in Burma.

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