Myanmar says cyclone death toll tops 15,000

YANGON, May 6, 2008 (AFP) – More than 15,000 people were killed in Myanmar’s devastating cyclone, the government said Tuesday, with thousands more feared dead after the storm left rice fields littered with corpses.

Aid workers were racing to deliver food and water to the southern coast which was submerged by floodwaters, leaving scenes of utter devastation and desperate homeless survivors running low on food and clean water.

But with the clock ticking four days after the storm hit, Myanmar’s reclusive military rulers insisted foreign aid experts would still have to negotiate with the government to be allowed into the isolated nation.

The government also said it would proceed this weekend with a constitutional referendum as part of its slow-moving “road map” to democracy, except in the areas hardest hit by the disaster.

In its first news conference since tropical cyclone Nargis barrelled into the Irrawaddy river delta early Saturday, the government said many people died from a 12-foot (3.5-metre) tidal wave that slammed into the area.

Social Welfare Minister Maung Maung Swe told reporters that most of the town of Bogalay, one of the delta areas that bore the brunt of the storm’s force, had si