Burma Government Didn't Warn of Killer Cyclone

Wednesday, May 14, 2008 at 03:44 PM

Jeff Masters, a meteorologist with the web site Weather Underground, has uncovered an amazing story related to the cyclone that killed thousands in Burma: The government buried a warning of the impending storm on page 15 of a state-run newspaper.

Masters writes:

Many of you have expressed amazement that so many could die from a tropical cyclone in this day and age of satellites and modern communications. Why did it happen? I believe there are two main reasons: the historical lack of tropical cyclones that have hit Burma's Irrawaddy delta, and the unwillingness of Myanmar's leaders to provide adequate warnings for fear of jeopardizing their May 10 referendum to consolidate their power.

Masters has a scanned copy of the newspaper page, which rates the storm warning's news value below "Greece, Russia Stress Closer Cooperation" but ahead of the TV listings (4:45 p.m.: Dance of National Races).

Irrawaddy.Org, a news site that covers Burma from Thailand, provided more details on the downplayed warning:

Appearances on Burma's state television by the country's director general of the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology, Tun Lwin, always attract a large following.

Viewers like his style and informative approach to weather reporting. But now those same viewers are asking: "Why did he fail to warn us of the approach of Cyclone Nargis?"

According to well-informed sources close to his department, Burma's leading meteorologist passed those warnings on to the government in Naypyidaw, together with information about the cyclone's strength, expected course, and timing.

Tun Lwin reportedly suggested the warning should be carried by state media, but sources said he was told by his bosses in the capital: "Don't create public panic ahead of the referendum."