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Myanmar-Thailand: Min Min U, Myanmar: "We thought we were all going to die"

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MAE SOT , 19 November 2008 (IRIN) - Min Min U, 24, from the village of Betut in Labutta Township, deep in the heart of Myanmar's Ayeyarwady Delta, recalls the day Cyclone Nargis struck, prompting him and his wife to migrate to the Thai border town of Mae Sot:

"The winds started to blow at around 2pm on 2 May. They were quite strong, but nothing out of the ordinary for that time of year. After a couple of hours we thought it might get worse, so my family collected our belongings and took them inside the house.

"At around 5pm the winds became stronger still. Everyone moved to shelter in our rice store. Only I stayed in the house.

"We lived next to a big creek and the storm was making the water level rise. After a while our boats started to blow against the house. It was deafening. The house shook so violently that it started to lean over and collapse.

"I was very frightened, so I ran to the rice store. By then, about 100 people from my village were sheltering there. It was very crowded and noisy. People were crying, the children were screaming.

"Everyone was sitting on the wooden beams under the roof, because the store was full of rice and the water was rising. But eventually the wind ripped the roof off.

"We were terrified. We thought we were all going to die. But all we could do was sit on the remaining shattered pieces of wood in the torrential rain.

"By the time it was light, the storm had stopped and the water level had dropped to normal. All we could see was devastation. My house was completely destroyed.

"I built a shelter for my wife and I. No one from the police or army came to our village, so after 10 days living off old rice and coconuts we went to Labutta.

"We stayed at a monastery where the monks built temporary shelters and were doing what they could to give out food and help to survivors.

"A group of monks from near Myawaddy [in Kayin state near the border with Thailand] was helping. They listened to my story. I told them how we'd lost everything, our house was destroyed, and we had no work. We didn't know what to do.

"One of them said a lot of Burmese people went to Mae Sot. He told us how to get there, and gave me the name of a group, the Arakan Workers' Union [AWU], that would help us.

"I had some money, and we sold everything else we could, even our wedding rings, to pay for the trip.

"It took us more than three days by bus to travel from Labutta to Yangon, and on up to Myawaddy.

"We crossed the Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge to Mae Sot on 3 July.

"Things are okay here. We feel safer and we have food and a place to stay. AWU is teaching us Thai, and how to sew, so we can get work in a local factory.

"We really just want to go home. But as our livelihood in Betut has been destroyed, and there aren't any jobs, how would we survive?"

gl/ds/mw

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