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Refugees, living in Raleigh, await word on Myanmar relatives

Myanmar natives, living in the Triangle, are awaiting word on whether their loved ones are alive after Cyclone Nargis struck the country.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Preventing a disease disaster in Myanmar is a "race against time," as many impoverished victims still await help a week after the brutal cyclone, experts warned.

On Sunday, Myanmar's state television said the death toll from Cyclone Nargis had gone up by about 5,000 to 28,458 –  with another 33,416 missing – though some experts said it could be 15 times that if people do not get clean water and sanitation soon.

As supplies have trouble making their way into the storm ravaged region, news is slow to get out.

Myanmar natives, living in the Triangle, are awaiting word on whether their loved ones are alive. They say many people in that part of the world do not have access to telephones or the Internet.

"It's very sad. People are in bad trouble, in a bad situation, you see? They need clean water (and) they need good food,” Kaw Htoo said.

Htoo, his wife and four children, came to America 10 months ago from a refugee camp in Thailand. His wife has an uncle, aunt and cousin living in Myanmar.

Like many refugees, Htoo and his wife were forced from their home by the Burmese Army.

“Fundamentally, the government wants to eradicate these people instead of the army going after them and killing them. The cyclone has done that and by withholding aid, they are dying daily,” Htoo said.

Pastor John Luther and Christ Covenant Church in Raleigh have adopted several refugee families and are helping them to become citizens.

"We've enrolled them at school. We've brought them to the doctor. We've brought them to the dentist. The first three families we've sponsored are self-sufficient. They are doing it all on their own,” Luther said.

Luther said 10 to 20 Myanmar families arrive in the Triangle area each month. He said he hopes more churches will help sponsor the families.