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Strong winds and freak hailstorms across a wide swathe of north-central Burma killed at least eight people and did extensive damage to thousands of homes over the weekend, according to the government’s Relief and Resettlement Department.
Department director Phyu Lei Lei Tun told DVB that the extreme weather that hit parts of Sagaing, Mandalay and Magwe divisions and Chin and Shan states since Friday had destroyed more than a thousand homes.
“Over 1,100 homes were completely destroyed and another 11,000 suffered severe damage, such as roofs blown off by the wind,” she said.
“There was one person killed in Sagaing Division and another in Shan State, and six more in Mandalay, for a total of eight. There were also 17 people reported injured, but that number could rise,” she added.
On Sunday, the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology warned that the storms — which it said were normal for this time of year but were intensified by this year’s El Niño effect — could continue for the next two days.
Meanwhile, the department’s deputy-director, Kyaw Moe Oo, dismissed claims circulating on social media that a storm cloud moving at 600 mph (965 km/hour) was responsible for the devastation.
“There are rain clouds bringing storms to northern Burma, especially to the north and west of Sagaing Division, that could cause heavy downpours in the region, but they aren’t moving at anything like the phenomenal rate of 600 mph that the rumours claim,” he said, adding that the cloud formation is likely to dissipate over the next two or three days.
In some areas, whole villages were reportedly razed by the combination of powerful winds and hail the size of chicken eggs, according to local sources.
Aung Naing Win, a National League for Democracy MP for Mandalay Division’s Sintaung Township, said that five villages were “completely wiped out” when a hailstorm accompanied by high-speed winds swept through the area at around 5 pm on Friday.
“The hailstones came down hard, piercing zinc sheets [used as roofing], and now residents’ homes have no roofs. We have been informed that the local Red Cross and other relief organisations have pledged to donate tarpaulin sheets for temporary roofing,” he said.
He added that no deaths were reported in any of the five villages — Kangyi, Nyaungbintha, Ta-ohn, Phalanbin and Kotoe — but a number of people had been injured and some cattle had been killed.
Although most of Kachin State appears to have been spared the worst of the storms, a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Mansi Township, near Shan State, suffered significant damage, including the loss of a boarding school and dozens of temporary shelters.
“Student dorms and a study hall at the school were completely destroyed – the girls’ dorm was virtually flattened as it was built with bamboo and unable to withstand the heavy wind,” said Mary Tawm, director of local aid organisation Wunpawng Ninghtoi, describing the situation at the Bumtsit Pa IDP camp.
“In addition, 38 IDP homes had their roofs blown off and a communal kitchen for 15 households was also destroyed. The roofs on the living quarters of teachers at the schools were also blown off,” she added.
She said there were over 100 children aged between 10 and 18 sheltering at the camp who had to be relocated to a local church following the hailstorm.
Another IDP camp, Lana Zup Ja camp also suffered some damage, she said.
In a similar incident, over 500 houses in three IDP camps in Kachin state’s Chipwi and Sadon townships were destroyed by strong winds on 19 April.