Calm skies erupted in decimation.


Byline: Stephen Morisoncq Jr.

YANGON, Myanmar - Cyclone Nargis came roaring into this city at 11 p.m. May 2 and set about decimating the Mother Land Inn 2, where I was staying, and everything else in the former capital of Myanmar.

The gentle skies that preceded this devastating storm gave way to a battering wind, sleet and rain, and I climbed into bed and listened to the corrugated tin panels of the neighboring rooftop wagging and slapping like the pistons of a failing steam engine. At 2 a.m., an explosion and a shudder from the core of the hotel jerked me upright. A 100-year-old banyan tree had punched its way through the windows of Room 22 (I was in number 7 on the leeward side of the hotel) as it collapsed onto the rooftop. The wind increased and windows on the upper floors began shattering. Broken glass rained down throughout the night, creating a chorus of tinkling and leaving a jagged shard stuck in one of my wooden window sashes.

At 5 a.m., a blue dawn broke even as the flapping corrugated roofing next door began wrenching free, turning the metal sheets into flying guillotines that spiraled away on the 90 ph gusts. Worried about my vulnerable windows, I arranged my things by the door and went downstairs.

A dozen guests from Australia, Israel, France and Argentina were hunched on the bamboo sofa and chairs in the little lobby, driven from their rooms by shattered windows, dripping ceilings and flooded floors. A cascade of water ran down the back stairs and flooded the ground floor. In the dining room annex, the Burmese staff had recovered one of the pieces of corrugated roofing, curled it into a half-pipe, and used it as the final stage in a Rube Goldberg-type device that sluiced water from the stairs across the narrow dining room and out a window. For the rest of the morning, I moved between benumbed guests and the soaked and sleep-deprived hotel staff, who fought with brooms, mops and rags to push the water back outside.

At 11 a.m., 12 hours after the storm began, the wind died, the rain tapered off, and people began to venture outside to stare at what remained of the city.

Working in Beijing, China, I'd taken advantage of a weeklong holiday to fly down to Myanmar and try to learn more about the writing scene there. I've got an interest in Asian literature, and I was intrigued by the descriptions of Myanmar - formerly Burma- in the works of canonized English writers such as George Orwell and Somerset Maugham.

I landed at Yangon Airport on April...

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