The United States and others are engaging in "a full-court diplomatic press" to get Myanmar to accept aid shipments after a weekend cyclone left as many as 70,000 dead and many more at risk of starvation and disease, a State Department official said.
The diplomatic push came as top U.S. military officials discounted an earlier suggestion that the United States might air drop relief supplies to survivors without Myanmar's permission.
"It's sovereign air space, and you'd need their permission to fly in that air space," U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman Michael Mullen told reporters.
"I cannot imagine us going in without permission of the Myanmar government," U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.
But the United States is poised to move in with helicopters and supplies as soon as Myanmar gives permission, Mullen and Gates said.
"There is an opportunity here to save a lot of lives," Gates said. "We are fully prepared to help and to help right away. And it would be a tragedy if these assets, if people didn't take advantage of them."
According to the Myanmar government, the cyclone left as many as 70,000 people dead or missing. A top U.S. diplomat in Myanmar has said the death toll from the cyclone could top 100,000.
Though the United States and other international bodies have been barred, the Myanmar government today allowed the first major international shipment to land in Yangon, Myanmar, six days after the storm hit -- a United Nations flight carrying high-energy biscuits, medicine, water purification tablets and other aid items.
But most survivors of Cyclone Nargis have seen little evidence so far of help on the horizon.
Asked on a video provided by the Democratic Voice of Burma, an anti-government group based in Norway, if help was on the way, a woman replied, "No one comes. Who will come? ... No one comes and nothing is done. People are starving."
In the town of Tawkhayanlay, survivors told an ABC News producer they had to swim across the rice fields as the cyclone bore down on them. While they were swimming the water rose. The strong made it to shore, but 43 of the weak drowned. The town's 2,000 survivors are still waiting, having received no aid.
Daw Thay, 42, who took refuge in a monastery with her three children and her 99-year-old mother in a town 60 miles south of Yangon, told The Associated Press monks were going without food so others could eat.
"My children were crying all night," she said. "There is not enough food. There will be no food this evening."
But aid is available if Myanmar's government can be convinced to allow it in.
"We're trying to make the diplomacy work," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, adding that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called China's foreign minister as part of an effort to have countries that have good relations with Myanmar to exert their influence.
The head of humanitarian affairs for the United Nations, John Holmes, said today that 1.5 million people were "severely affected," and in the five days since the storm struck they have become "increasingly desperate."
"There is a real danger that an even worse tragedy may unfold if we cannot get the aid that's desperately needed in quickly," Holmes warned.
Holmes said he was "disappointed" by the inability to get large amounts of aid or emergency relief teams into the ravaged country.