Struggling With Injuries After Surviving Storm

By Los Angeles Times
Thursday, May 15, 2008

THANN LITE, Burma, May 14 -- Something hard and heavy slammed into Ko Kyaw Win's leg as he clung to the top of a coconut tree, fighting for his life against the brutal winds of Tropical Cyclone Nargis and a flood torrent strong enough to bend steel.

Two friends who had tried to swim with him to a small fishing boat had drowned, and he now figured fate would eventually sweep him away too.

Somehow, though, the sinewy 45-year-old fisherman managed to hang on, hugging the treetop long enough to remain among the living, surviving on coconut milk for five days.

After beating those odds, Kyaw Win fears a new fight for his life: an infection is taking hold in the wound that the hard and heavy thing made in his right shin, and no medical supplies remain in this Irrawaddy Delta village. Cyclone Nargis destroyed at least 400 houses here, he said, adding softly: "Only 100 people survived."

Kyaw Win is one of thousands of survivors across southern Burma still waiting for medical care 11 days after the cyclone hammered the delta.

No doctor has visited the seven villages where local nurse U Tin Hling is the only trained medical worker. He ran out of medicine, bandages and the rest of his meager medical supplies days ago.

The first food aid from the military for about 3,000 people did not arrive here until Tuesday. It consisted of 900 eggs, two 20-pound sacks of potatoes, 200 tins of sardines and packets of energy-drink powder.

"We have no idea why more aid hasn't come," Abbott U De Thar Ni, head of a monastery that is sheltering scores of local survivors, said with a resigned smile. "It must be our karma. But we need much more help."

In recent days, Kyaw Win has eaten rotting rice from village stockpiles soaked in the storm. The rice could be breeding bacteria that can cause diarrhea or other illnesses.

His leg wound is deep but not very large, certainly not one that would be life-threatening if this were a typical natural disaster, where armies of doctors, sanitation experts and aid workers would have set up medical camps and emergency shelters by now.

But in Burma, the only army allowed into the vast disaster zone is the one that has ruled the country since 1962. The reclusive generals controlling Burma, also known as Myanmar, continue to see Western aid workers and journalists as likely spies sent to help end the military's decades-long monopoly on power.

The only treatment Kyaw Win has received for his raw, red leg wound, which throbs with pain, is a few dabs of rubbing alcohol to clean out some of the dirt lodged in the torn flesh.

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