Myanmar troops and rescue services have scrambled to provide aid in flood-hit parts of the country after rising waters caused by the annual monsoon rains forced residents to flee by boat and a landslide killed at least 52 people.
The deluge has tested disaster response after the landslide on Friday in south-eastern Mon state was followed by heavy flooding that reached the roofs of houses and treetops in nearby towns.
Hundreds of soldiers, firefighters and local rescue workers were still pulling bodies and vehicles out of the muddy wreckage of Paung township on Sunday.
“The latest death toll we have from the landslide in Mon state was 52,” Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said on Monday.
As the rainy season reaches its peak, the country’s armed forces are pitching in and have readied helicopters to deliver supplies.
“Access to affected regions is still good. Our ground forces can reach the areas so far,” Zaw Min Tun said.
Heavy rains pounded other parts of Mon, Karen and Kachin states, flooding roads and destroying bridges that crumbled under the weight of the downpour.
But the bulk of the relief effort is focused on hard-hit Mon, which sits on the coast of the Andaman sea.
About two-thirds of the state’s Ye township remained flooded, an administrator said, as drone footage showed only the tops of houses, tree branches and satellite dishes poking above the waters.
Families began to evacuate in the early hours Sunday, packing possessions into boats, rowing towards higher ground or swimming away.
Than Htay, a 40-year-old from Ye town, said the water rose to their waists around 02:00am and she and her family members started shouting for help. A passing boat heard their pleas and gave them a ride.
“That’s why we survived. We thought we were dead,” she said.
Another resident said this year’s flooding was the worst they had experienced.
Floodwaters have submerged more than 4,000 houses in the state and displaced more than 25,000 residents who have sought shelter in monasteries and pagodas, according to state-owned Global New Light of Myanmar.
Myanmar’s vice president, Henry Van Thio, visited landslide survivors in Paung village on Saturday and “spoke of his sorrow” while promising relief, the paper reported.
The search for victims has continued though the rain has made the process more difficult.
“We are still working. We will continue searching in the coming days as well,” Paung administrator Zaw Moe Aung said.
Climate scientists in 2015 ranked Myanmar at the top of a global list of nations hardest hit by extreme weather. That year more than 100 people died in floods that also displaced hundreds of thousands.
Every year monsoon rains hammer Myanmar and other countries across south-east Asia, submerging homes, displacing residents and triggering landslides.
A typhoon wreaked havoc in southern China over the weekend killing at least33 people. Rescue workers used rubber dinghies to evacuate people left stranded as swift currents swept through villages. Among the dead were 23 people killed when a landslide blocked a river and then engulfed a village in Yongjia county.