ADRA Bridges Save Nearly 900 Lives During Cyclone Nargis
As the high winds of Cyclone Nargis battered southern Myanmar’s delta region in May 2008, and high tidal waves and floodwaters covered low-lying areas, hundreds of people flocked to at least 22 ADRA bridges that had been constructed months before to link isolated communities in the Pyinsalu Sub-Township, a patchwork of rivers and islands on the extreme southern edge of Labutta Township.Nearly 900 people were saved from tidal waves and flooding in the Pyinsalu islands, located on the southern coast of the Irrawaddy Delta, by standing on bridges built by ADRA. One structure alone, the Lay Yin Kwin Bridge, which measures 140 feet in length, held 145 people for several hours, while the storm waters rose and then receded.
“People stood on the bridge and were saved because the bridge was the highest point during the tidal waves and subsequent flooding,” said Raymond Chevalier, Cyclone Nargis Emergency Response Coordinator for the ADRA network, from Yangon.
The bridges were built as part of a three-year tsunami rehabilitation project that was being implemented by the ADRA office in Myanmar following the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
As Cyclone Nargis made landfall in the southern coast of Myanmar late on May 2, an ADRA team, lead by Teddy Dinh, associate country director for the ADRA office in Myanmar, was caught in the storm. Unable to escape the area where they had built several bridges in the past and were now constructing a jetty near the village of Amageley, the ADRA workers found refuge with 150 others inside a warehouse packed with eight feet of rice, while the waters rose around them up to four feet above the rice.
“It was like a tsunami,” said Dinh, days after the tragedy.
For two days, Dinh and several of his staff survived by drinking coconut water and eating the meat from the coconuts. Other survivors resorted to eating the livestock carcasses lying in the streets in the immediate hours after the storm.
“We are humbled by the plight of those who lost everything, including their loved ones, in this disaster,” said Mark Castellino, programs director for the ADRA network emergency response in Myanmar.
Although officially 77,738 have been reported dead and 55,917 are missing, other estimates set those numbers considerably higher. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported on May 18 that up to 2.4 million people have been affected, of which 1.4 million severely.