Survivors of Cyclone Left in Disarray

KYUNGYANGON SOUTH, Myanmar -- As the cyclone raged around him, Ko Zaw Min clung to a tree with one arm while clutching his newborn son with the other.

He managed to hang on for 10 hours despite the howling winds and punishing rains of Cyclone Nargis, which decimated his life.

First the floods washed away his home. Then his newborn son died, unable to breath in the rain-filled 190 kilometer-per-hour winds. Ko Zaw Min's 9-year-old son fell from the tree about 30 minutes later and was swept away by flood waters.

Ko Zaw Min, whose wife and 11-year-old daughter also survived, said he held his dead baby through the night and finally let go in the morning to perform a simple funeral.

"I was so sad but could not do anything to save him," he said, dressed in the same T-shirt and shorts he wore on that tragic night.

The cyclone took away everything the rice farmer owned, including 70 baskets of rice from the last harvest that were stored in his hut in Kyungyangon South village in the Irrawaddy delta.

Located on the banks of a river, and not too far from the sea, the village -- a patchwork of rice fields, huts and some concrete houses along one unpaved road -- was directly in the path of the cyclone.

Every brick house was damaged, and huts such as Ko Zaw Min's, made of bamboo poles and thatched roofs, were rendered heaps of rotting vegetation.

"I lost everything and I am scared," Ko Zaw Min said, sitting in a brick house, one of the few still standing in the village.

"I have no idea what to do," he said, speaking in a soft monotone, his face showing no expression.

Ko Zaw Min's suffering is not unique in a tragedy that claimed more than 28,000 lives and left about 33,000 missing, according to the government.

In another low-lying delta village, Pain Na Kon, only 12 of the 300 people survived. They now share a large tent and their larger heartaches.

"We are family now. We are from the same place. We are together," said U Nyo, who lost his parents. The only survivors from his family are his wife and his 6-year-old niece, Mien Mien.

"We saw some people [from the village] dead on our walk here. The rest are missing. We didn't find them anywhere," said U Nyo.

The 12 walked to the town of Labutta, wading for hours through knee-deep water, slush and mangrove debris. They erected a tent on the outskirts.

"There were dead buffalos and dead bodies everywhere," said U Nyo's wife, Saw San Myant, her voice shaking. "We didn't dare look. We didn't want to see."

Inside the tent, the only signs of comfort were a few thin blankets, some high-energy biscuits and watery curry soup that they found at a monastery in Labutta.

"We don't know when they will also run out of food," he said, casting glances at his niece, Mien Mien, who sat outside in the dark in the ravaged rice field.

U Nyo called out to her gently, but Mien Mien stared emptily into the darkness. Overcome with emotion, U Nyo walked, teary-eyed, over to the girl and sat beside her in silence.

Saw San Myant described in a hushed voice what had happened to Mien Mien's father.

"We hung together on a coconut tree as the tide continued to rise. Her father was separated. He tried to hang onto a pole of the hut but that was broken. The wind was too strong. She saw her father swept away by the water but we didn't see anyone else. We think they are all dead," she said.

They waited until the water subsided before climbing down the trees and going from house to house in the area to find out who had survived.

"We are the only ones left," she said.