YANGON, Burma -- Nearly 700 fishermen from Burma are missing after a three-day burst of unseasonable storms that ripped apart rickety fishing boats in the Andaman Sea, news reports said Monday.
Rescued fishermen gave harrowing accounts. Some told local media they held on for days to broken bamboo rafts before being rescued by offshore oil companies, Thai fishing boats or Burmese naval boats.
The Weekly Eleven news journal reported that 15,583 fisherman were rescued after the March 14-17 storms whipped up 70 mph winds, battering fishing rafts and trawlers, and sweeping thousands of fisherman into the open seas. It said 682 fisherman were missing.
The storms hit ahead of the typical rainy period and came during the shrimp fishing season, when thousands of fisherman ply the waters on bamboo rafts.
Authorities in the tightly ruled country, also known as Myanmar, tend to not immediately report the effects of natural disasters and have been criticized in the past for being slow to send help and humanitarian aid.
The Burma government has not yet announced an official death toll. The Weekly Eleven journal said three people died, while another weekly, The Voice, reported over the weekend that 14 fishermen had died in the storms. The actual number is expected to be higher.
The storms hit parts of the Irrawaddy Delta, which was devastated by Cyclone Nargis in May 2008. The cyclone left 130,000 people dead.
"At least during Nargis we had enough time, because there was a light drizzle before the strong winds," fisherman Kyaw Lwin, 42, told The Voice news weekly. "But this time, in the middle of summer, it happened so abruptly we had no time."
He said he was rescued by a Thai fishing boat after drifting at sea for three days.