YANGON—A devastating cyclone killed nearly 4,000 people and left thousands more missing in army-ruled Burma, which has yet to accept international offers of disaster assistance, state media said on Monday.
The death toll only covered two of the five declared disaster zones, where U.N. officials said hundreds of thousands of people were without shelter and drinking water in the impoverished Southeast Asian country.
"The confirmed number is 3,934 dead, 41 injured and 2,879 missing within the Yangon and Irrawaddy divisions," Burma TV reported three days after Cyclone Nargis, a storm with winds of 190 kph (120 mph), hit the Irrawaddy delta.
Earlier, official reports put the death toll at 351, but the number of casualties had been expected to rise as authorities reached hard-hit islands and villages in the delta, the rice bowl for the nation of 53 million.
The military, which has ruled for 46 years and is shunned by the West, has not formally responded to offers of international help made before and after the storm. But some government officials told the U.N. help may be welcomed. (The ruling junta calls Burma, "Myanmar.")
British Foreign Office Minister Meg Munn urged one of the world's most secretive regimes to accept foreign assistance.
"The priority must be to mobilise aid to all those affected to avoid further suffering," she said in London.
Two Indian naval ships loaded with food, tents, blankets, clothing and medicines would sail for Yangon soon, Indian's Ministry of External Affairs said.
Offers of help also came from Singapore and neighbouring Thailand, while the European Union said it had extra humanitarian staff on standby and was ready to provide humanitarian aid as quickly as possible.
The junta leaders, bunkered in their isolated new capital of Naypyidaw, 400 km (240 miles) north of Yangon, said they would go ahead with a May 10 referendum on a new army-drafted constitution that critics say will entrench the military.
The last major storm to ravage Asia was Cyclone Sidr which killed 3,300 people in Bangladesh last November.
In the former capital Yangon, food and fuel prices have soared as aid agencies scrambled to deliver emergency supplies and assess the damage in the five declared disaster zones, home to 24 million people.
"How many people are affected? We know that it's in the six figures," Richard Horsey, of the U.N. disaster response office, told Reuters after an emergency aid meeting in Bangkok on Monday before the state TV announcement.
"We know that it's several hundred thousand needing shelter and clean drinking water, but how many hundred thousand we just don't know."
The U.N. office in Yangon said there was an urgent need for plastic sheeting, water purification tablets, cooking equipment, mosquito nets, health kits and food.
It said the situation outside Yangon was "critical, with shelter and safe water being the principal immediate needs".
Thailand responded to the disaster, sending a C-130 transport plane loaded with food and medicine to Yangon after the airport reopened on Monday, Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama said.
In Yangon, many roofs were ripped off even sturdy buildings, suggesting damage would be severe in the shanty towns that lie on the outskirts of the city of 5 million people.
At the city's notorious Insein prison, soldiers and police killed 36 prisoners to quell a riot that started when inmates were herded into a large hall and started a fire to try to keep warm, a Thailand-based human rights group said.
Clean water was scarce. Most shops had sold out of candles and batteries and there was no word when power would be restored.
Long queues formed at the few open petrol stations. The price of a gallon of petrol has doubled on the black market, while egg prices have tripled since Saturday.
State television showed military and police units on rescue and cleanup operations in Yangon, but residents complained the junta's response was weak.
"Where are the soldiers and police? They were very quick and aggressive when there were protests in the streets last year," a retired government worker told Reuters, referring to protests led by Buddhist monks last year that were swiftly crushed.
Michael Annear, regional disaster chief for the International Red Cross, said emergency supplies were being handed out from stockpiles in Burma, but more was needed.