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Shippensburg native recounts Myanmar cyclone

May 30, 2008|By CHRIS CARTER

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Katrina Lehman retreated to her basement with her two cats as the deadliest natural disaster in the history of Myanmar slammed her hometown of Yangon.

Ten hours later, she couldn't have imagined the havoc that Cyclone Nargis had reaped.

"Total devastation," said Lehman, a native of Shippensburg, Pa. "I was shocked."

Lehman, 41, shared her firsthand account of the cyclone Friday night in front of about 50 people at Marion Mennonite Church. The presentation was sponsored jointly by the Cumberland Valley Relief Center and the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) as they attempt to raise money for aid and rebuilding in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

Lehman, a 1989 Shippensburg University graduate, has spent the last five years teaching at International School Yangon. The school closed after the cyclone, bringing Lehman back to the area May 18 - a few weeks earlier than her usual return to see her family.

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She plans to return to Yangon at the end of July after a tentative West Coast tour to help spread awareness and raise funds for the relief effort.

"I'm glad that the MCC is getting help to people through programs that are already there," she said.

Lehman said the cyclone hit May 2 at midnight Myanmar time, and there were three responses - the local and church response, the student response and a communitywide response.

The MCC has been part of the subsequent response despite its limited access. Of the $500,000 in donations it is appealing, the MCC plans to give 20 percent to four organizations - the Church World Service, Metta, Hope International and the International Developmental Enterprise - that already are working inside the damaged area.

The remaining 80 percent would be used for the long-term reconstruction of the area.

"One of the misconceptions is that there's no way to get food and supplies to the Myanmar people," Lehman said. "There is a way. Through organizations like the MCC."

The MCC and other entities have had to find alternative ways to deliver food, water and supplies and transfer funds because of the initial reluctance of the Myanmar government to allow foreign access and aid. It since has become more compromising, but, the current situation could be improved, Lehman said.

"We're trying to save 2.5 million survivors," she said. "More can be done."

For information about the MCC and its efforts in Myanmar, go to mcc.org/myanmarrelief.

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