Thursday, 22 May 2008

A Survivor’s Story

The Irrawaddy News

The horror of the cyclone is written on the lined face of Kyin Hla, who sits disconsolately at the entrance to the Thaya Mara Zein pagoda in Laputta. Tears flow down her drawn cheeks as the 65-year-old recalls the hours she spent fighting for her life when Cyclone Nargis struck—and as she thinks of the fate suffered by 12 members of her family, including grandchildren.

At 11 a.m. On May 2, Kyin Hla was busy with household chores in her one story house in Bi Tut village, in the Kyein Chaung district of the Irrawaddy delta region. The house is—or, more accurately, was—part of a farm where her extended family of 20 lived.

Her grandchildren were playing happily outside. There was no sign of the impending catastrophe.

At 11: 20 a.m. the wind picked up and the water seemed to rise on the nearby beach. Kyin Hla was used to inclement weather in the monsoon months, but she still called her grandchildren inside and closed the windows.

At 12 noon, the sky took on an angry red color and filled with massive dark clouds.
Kyin Hla, alarmed now by the worsening weather, drew her grandchildren close and prayed to Buddha.

The wind grew stronger and shook the house, finally carrying away the roof and blowing down its walls. Cries for help filled the air.

About 1:00 p.m. a tidal wave two meters high demolished what was left of the house. Kyin Hla grabbed her grandchildren, but a surge of water separated them. She heard one of them cry “Grandma” as they were swept away.

Kyin Hla fought with the surging current, joining a flow of struggling villagers, bodies, livestock, the remains of houses and whole trees. People screamed for help.

With the last of her strength, she grabbed the branches of a large tree and hung on. After two hours the wind died down and the rain stopped. The water also gradually subsided, and Kyin Hla was able to clamber down from the tree, collapsing with exhaustion at its base.

She awoke the next morning. Around her lay bodies, animal cadavers and the detritus of the storm.

The raging water had ripped most of her clothing off and she took a sarong from a dead woman and covered herself with it. She set out to look for her village, meeting a group of other survivors, some of them naked. They gave her coconut to eat and that became their only food on their march in search of help.

After four days, they came across a boat, which took them to Laputta. She found shelter in the Township’s State High School No. 2, and was later reunited with three of her sons and five daughters-in-law, living in a refugee camp. But there was no sign of her grandchildren or other members of her family.

Now she prays for them and for a better life in the hereafter. "Shall we free from such a disaster in our next life?” she asks in her prayers in the Laputta temple.

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