'Everything Is Gone, We Have Nothing'

Five weeks after Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar, ABC talks to those affected.

YANGON, Myanmar, June 9, 2008 — -- The following dispatch was written for ABC News by a journalist who has been inside Myanmar. Out of concern for the reporter's safety, we are not revealing the author's name.

Downed trees line the streets, their massive roots shooting into the air and their trunks blocking traffic. Repair crews trim large branches that have fallen into the streets. Piles of refuse sit untouched in front of dilapidated commercial buildings. And the city's proud pagodas show damage from the storm, their golden spires bent toward the earth, snapped in half by powerful winds.

Indeed, the deadly effects of cyclone Nargis, which tore through Myanmar more than a month ago, are clearly on display here in Yangon, the country's largest city. More than 134,000 people are estimated to have died in Myanmar, also known as Burma, and more than a million survivors remain, many of whom still lack proper food, water and shelter.

Foreign journalists are prohibited from entering this repressive country, which is ruled by a hardline military regime. But I'm posing as a tourist, reporting surreptitiously on the state of the country in the wake of the world's worst natural disaster since the 2004 Asian tsunami.

But unlike the tsunami, when the world saw the damage thanks to open media coverage -- and when governments throughout the region allowed relief groups to provide aid unfettered -- Myanmar's junta has allowed only limited access to the hardest-hit areas. Some say the government is blocking aid outright -- or simply confiscating it.

The isolated leadership, fearful and paranoid of outside influences, has been reluctant to allow access. That's why today, more than a month after the disaster, people here -- people who had little to begin with -- now have nothing at all.

I've made my way to the outskirts of Yangon, to a region in the northeast called Dagon Myothit. As my taxi driver and I bounce along the rutted road in his ancient sedan, I begin to see lines of wooden shacks that were pummeled by Nargis.

Some dwellings lack roofs altogether. Others have walls that have crumbled under the weight of the storm. Some houses are flooded and muddy water laps through the single-room dwellings.

All around, residents simply mill about. The ones who are lucky enough to have funds to purchase supplies have patched up their roofs with blue tarpaulins. But many houses remain as damaged as they were when the storm first hit.

We come to a particularly hard-hit area: the road is pure mud, and most of the homes are either washed away entirely or are barely standing. "Hello, welcome, would you like to interview me?" a man says. A hunched fellow with white hair, perhaps 60 or 65 years old, approaches me. "Look, everything is gone," he says. "We have nothing. Come talk to us."

He leads me to an open-air building where people have gathered to escape the sprinkling rain. He is a former English teacher.

People gather and begin telling me their stories. One woman says her house is gone. Children stare at me, expressionless. A man with spiky black hair shows me his shirt, which is soaking wet. "He says he's wet from the rain, since he has no roof," the old man says.

We walk toward the man's house -- or what's left of it. It's simply a tiny wooden frame. The floor is wood. The man gestures toward it, "I have nothing," he says. "I have nothing." Another man tells me that his house has similarly been destroyed, and that two of his four sisters have perished in another part of the country.

Many of the villagers sleep in a nearby school at night. The woman who runs the school says they shelter some 980 people every evening.

The villagers say an international aid group gave them the equivalent of $50 per household to rebuild, but they've used that money for food and water. Other people in Yangon tell me that the government refuses to give them donated aid, or makes villages buy it.

Dagon Myothit isn't even the hardest-hit area of Myanmar. The delta, in the south, has been ravaged, with more casualties and more damage.

Back in the taxi, on the way back into the city, my driver tells me that ever since the harrowing night of the cyclone, he's afraid to go to bed. "There was water up to my chest, but I lived," he says. "Now I can't sleep at night."