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Secret disaster management training creates panic

New Delhi (Mizzima) – In the aftermath of the deadly Cyclone Nargis that devastated Burma’s coastal regions in May 2008, the army generals ruling the country are ensuring they do not face a catastrophe of the same magnitude without preparation.

The generals in Naypyitaw have instructed imparting of a training programme on disaster management for high ranking officials, including those of the Meteorology and Hydrology Department (MHD) last week.

The training, cloaked in secrecy even from lower ranking staff of the department, was revealed, when a mock Tsunami alarm, issued by the Director of the MHD, was leaked to the people.

The dummy statement, apparently used for training purposes, which had no practical value, stated on September 14, that a powerful earthquake with an intensity of 9.5 on the Richter scale was recorded about 950 miles south of Kaba Aye Seismological Department Observatory at 14:30 hours.

It further warned that the quake was likely to produce a Tsunami resulting in up to 10 feet high tidal waves in the coastal region. It warned the people to move at least one-and-a-half mile inland from the coast.

“After two to five hours of a strong earthquake, the 10 feet high sea waves could hit the coastal region,” the statement said.

While it is not clear how the training was conducted, the mock notice reveals that the government was imparting training for high-level officials on natural disaster preparedness.

Despite the secrecy, the dummy notice, a copy of which is in Mizzima’s possession, was leaked to the public, creating panic among residents in Rangoon, sources said.

Though there has been no official announcement of any Tsunami or news reports on it, people in Rangoon said they believed the rumours because there was no such announcement before Cyclone Nargis lashed the country, the source said.

Days before Cyclone Nargis lashed Burma’s coastal region, the Burmese Meteorological and Hydrology Department, which was warned by India and the US, officially informed of the scale of the cyclone, to the government and to the state-run televisions, which after softening the tenor read out a normal weather forecast.

Though it was written on the dummy statement - ‘only for training purpose’ - residents in Rangoon panicked as they believed  it,  afraid that another cyclone would catch them unawares, the source said.

Cyclone Nargis, which was the worst disaster in modern Burma, left at least 140,000 dead or missing and devastated over 2.4 million people’s lives.

More than 16 months since the cyclone, locals are still struggling to rebuild their lives with the help of domestic volunteers and NGOs, International NGOs, the government and the United Nations.

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 22 September 2009 23:09 )  

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