An article was just posted to the Kansas City Star (from AP) stating that the official death toll of the cyclone in Myanmar is now 78,000 people, with an additional 56,000 people missing. Those are just the “official” numbers – the article states that the Red Cross and other officials fear that the death toll could be over 100,000. It has now been two weeks since the cyclone struck.
In China, a week after a massive earthquake struck the Sichuan province officials are saying that the death toll could be as high as 50,000. That means that two different massive natural disasters that occurred roughly a week apart may have led to the deaths of almost 175,000 people. That’s just mind-boggling, and I feel completely inadequate just trying to imagine an event like that.
As amazing as those numbers are, that’s (potentially) less than 1/20th of the total number of people that died in the Yellow River flood of 1931 (although the numbers available seem to be pretty widely varied), and is still around 100,000 fewer than the numbers from the 2004 Tsunami.
As I sit here thinking about this, I have caught myself doing something that I suppose is a natural human reaction – I’ve started thinking about these events in terms of numbers, not people. I have never been to an event with more than 100,000 people in attendance, so aside from the intellectual exercise of trying to conjure up some kind of understanding or estimation in my mind I really can’t comprehend the scale of these disasters. It’s one thing to drive up and down your street and see businesses destroyed by a tornado – that’s very close and somewhat personal, certainly much more so for those involved. But when reading these stories about the extraordinary loss of life in the last two weeks the numbers become too large to relate to. I can relate to individuals, even a small group of them or a community…but to try to think of an imagine such a large, diverse group of people whose lives were taken so violently is frankly more than I can really do.