At least 15,000 people have been killed in two divisions of Yangon and Ayeyawaddy in a violent cyclone storm Nargis that swept Myanmar's five divisions and states on Friday and Saturday, official sources said yesterday evening.
“Information is still being collected, and there could be more casualties,” Foreign Minister Nyan Win told state television yesterday, adding that his nation would welcome international aid.
He also welcomed Thailand's promise to send emergency food and medicine, saying Myanmar would welcome international aid from other countries.
"We will welcome help like this from other countries, because our people are in difficulty," he said.
He said 57 ships had sunk in the Ayeyawaddy (Irrawaddy) River, adding that smaller boats had also been destroyed.
State television showed images of entire communities that had flooded since Tropical Cyclone Nargis struck late Friday. Earlier, state media said tens of thousands of people may have been killed in the township of Bogalay alone.
The United Nations said hundreds of thousands of people had been left homeless when the storm, packing winds of 190 kilometres (120 miles) per hour, ripped through the countryside, destroying entire villages in its fury.
Thousands of buildings were flattened as the furious cyclone also ripped power lines to shreds, uprooted trees that blocked key roads and disrupted water supplies in the main city and former capital, Yangon.
Well before the latest figures emerged, the International Federation of the Red Cross said in a preliminary estimate that several villages had been destroyed -- wiped out in total by one of the worst storms here in memory.
The winds combined with a sea surge in the Bay of Bengal, wreaking devastation in a country where the military normally imposes tough restrictions on the activities of aid agencies.
Richard Horsey, a UN official in neighbouring Thailand, said that several hundred thousand people had been left homeless and without drinking water across a broad swath of the country.
"If we look at the emergency needs for shelter and drinking water, there are several hundred thousand people who will need urgent assistance," he told AFP.
In addition to infrastructure problems, Myanmar has suffered more than a decade of US and European sanctions over the continuing detention of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
UN agencies and other international aid groups met earlier Monday in Bangkok to begin coordinating a response.
The military government said Saturday's referendum on a new constitution intended to usher in democracy would go ahead, but with food prices tripling and water supplies cut, many residents said they had more pressing problems.
"We don't want any democracy," said one man queuing urgently at a neighbour's well. "We just want water now."
The junta, whose power base is now the new remote capital of Naypyidaw, said "the entire people of the country are eagerly looking forward" to the referendum, according to the official New Light of Myanmar newspaper.