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South East Asia: millions affected by six natural disasters

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Volcanoes, tsunamis, typhoons and cyclones...over the past two weeks, five countries in South East Asia have been hammered by nature. Millions have been affected by six disasters that are stretching the resources of governments and the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

The eruption of Mount Merapi, Indonesia's most active volcano, has so far claimed 25 lives with thousands fleeing the spewing clouds of hot ash and lava. Among the dead is Indonesian Red Cross volunteer, Mr Tutur Rajinato, a senior physiotherapist, who was unable to escape the downfall of hot volcanic ash whilst helping to evacuate people from the village.

Around the volcano, more than 8,000 people have been displaced from their homes. As volcanic activity increases, officials estimate that 40,000 people living in the area are still at risk. The Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) has been quick to respond, with over 100 personnel already on the ground. Red Cross volunteers are supporting the evacuation process, providing medical care and establishing field kitchens for the displaced population. Tents and other relief items have also been dispatched to the area.

Red Cross volunteers are also active on the Mentawai Islands off the coast of Sumatra. An earthquake measuring 7.7 on the Richter scale caused a tsunami with waves reaching a height of three metres. The tsunami caused widespread devastation on a number of the islands. Local government estimates that 112 people have been killed with more than 500 still missing.

Some villages have not yet been reached, but it is known that hundreds of families have been displaced. Indonesian Red Cross search and rescue teams are bringing tents for the homeless and body bags. Ten more teams of volunteers are on their way to the islands by boat with more relief items.

Flooding in Thailand and Viet Nam

Almost 3 million people have been affected by flooding in central Thailand. Weeks of rain have caused rivers and dams to overflow and destroy houses and villages. Around 1 million homes have been partially or totally damaged and 500 staff and volunteers of the Thai Red Cross have already assisted more than 260,000 people, distributing relief supplies and drinking water, carrying out evacuations and, where appropriate, providing food through relief kitchens.

In Viet Nam, the IFRC has launched an emergency appeal for 1 million Swiss francs to help the Viet Nam Red Cross carry out relief, water and sanitation, livelihoods and psychosocial support activities for some 120,000 people after heavy floods destroyed and damaged over 150,000 homes and affected more than 700,000 people in some of the worst flooding to have hit the country's central provinces in decades.

Typhoons and cyclones in Myanmar and Philippines

On 26 October another emergency appeal was launched to support the Philippine National Red Cross in assisting 60,000 people after Typhoon Megi battered the northern and central parts of Luzon. Megi was the strongest storm to hit the country since Typhoon Durian in 2006, and Red Cross teams have been on the ground assisting with evacuations and distribution of prepositioned relief. The 4.2 million Swiss francs in the appeal will go towards relief and recovery, distribution of relief items and providing shelter kits to more than 12,000 families to help them rebuild their homes.

In Myanmar's Rakhine state, almost 75 per cent of homes were damaged in one township when Cyclone Giri hit on Friday 22 October. Although stronger than Cyclone Nargis in 2008, the storm hit less populated areas, and thanks to early warnings, the number of causalities appears to be low. However, houses and infrastructure have been severely damaged.

The Myanmar Red Cross has taken a lead role in the response with local branches providing food, water and shelter. More than 50 volunteers have been dispatched to the area and two assessment teams have arrived from the capital Yangon. Red Cross volunteers are also caring for displaced people who are staying temporarily in five relief camps.