Minnesotans struggle to reach family in Myanmarby Toni Randolph, Minnesota Public Radio
The death toll in Myanmar continues to rise following a cyclone that hit more than a week ago. Government officials in Myanmar say more than 34,000 people are dead and nearly as many are missing.
The Twin Cities is home to about 1,000 people from the former Burma. The relatives of many of those who live in the hard-hit storm region are still waiting to hear the fate of their loved ones.
St. Paul, Minn. — Myint Myint Thu is worried about her family. She's a medical worker who lives in North St. Paul with her husband and two children. But she has family back in Myanmar, also known as Burma.
Thu's parents and three sisters live in the Irrawaddy delta region that was hardest hit by the cyclone on May third. She hasn't heard from them since the storm.
Thu's brother lives in Rangoon, not too far from the hard-hit delta region. She talked to him last Saturday and has exchanged e-mail messages with him. But he's told her he doesn't know if their parents and siblings survived the storm.
"He said he's still trying to find out. I said, 'Why is it taking so long?' He said it's hard to find out even in Rangoon City, it's very difficult," Thu said.
Rangoon, the largest city in Myanmar, also suffered some damage from the cyclone, but not nearly as severe as the delta region. Many of the roads in that region are flooded out. But Thu's brother was able to make a brief trip to their parents' home in the delta.
He told Thu that only the floor remains. She said he tried to be reassuring, and told her that only houses were damaged -- people were OK. But she said that wasn't enough to allay her concerns or keep her from becoming emotional.
"I still want to hear from my family. I want to talk with them," she said as she cried.
Thu said she believes her brother is downplaying the situation to keep her from worrying. If that's the case, it's not working.
"Even though he said they're OK, I'm still worried," Thu said.
The number of people who've moved to the Twin Cities from Myanmar has been growing over the years.
Saw Morrison is one of the recent arrivals. He moved to the Twin Cities as a refugee about three years ago and now works at Vietnamese Social Services in St. Paul.
But dozens of members of his extended family still live in his homeland -- about 65 family members are in the region where the cyclone hit. But Morrison said he's had difficulty contacting them.
"Last week, the whole week, we tried to call again and again but it didn't work. E-mail is not coming back. I just got through on the phone two times. The whole week, just only two times," Morrison said.
Morrison said he talked to his uncle. The first time, his uncle didn't have any updates on the condition of other family members.
"And the second time, he told me maybe four people died already in our family. And they don't know about the others yet," Morrison said.
So Morrison's aunt and about a dozen other people from his church back home left Rangoon a few days ago to travel to the area to check on family members. But he said it will be about two more days before he hears any news.
Travel conditions are difficult since the cyclone hit. And Morrison said, even before the storm, the round-trip took four days by boat.
While he waits for news, Morrison said he finds comfort in prayer, and in the work he and others are doing to send relief to those suffering from the storm.
- Morning Edition, 05/14/2008, 6:50 a.m.