YANGON, Myanmar - Heavy rains and another potentially powerful storm headed toward Myanmar's cyclone-devastated delta Wednesday even as the United Nations warned that inadequate relief efforts could lead to a second wave of deaths.
The International Red Cross said in a new estimate that the death toll may already be between 68,833 and 127,990 - considerably higher than the Myanmar government's latest official count of 38,491 dead.
The Red Cross said it made the estimate by compiling figures gathered in affected areas by other aid groups and organizations and extrapolating the total.
An estimated two million hurricane survivors are still in need of emergency aid, but UN agencies and other groups have been able to reach only 270,000 people affected by cyclone Nargis so far.
The junta told visiting Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundarave that it was in control of relief operations and doesn't need foreign experts.
Samak went to a government relief centre in Yangon and told reporters after returning to Bangkok that the junta has given him the "guarantee" that there are no disease outbreaks and no starvation among cyclone survivors.
"They have their own team to cope with the situation," Samak said, citing Myanmar Prime Minister Lt.-Gen. Thein Sein. "From what I have seen I am impressed with their management."
International agencies say bottlenecks, poor logistics, limited infrastructure and the government's refusal to let in foreign aid workers have left most of the delta's survivors living in miserable conditions without food or clean water. The government efforts have been criticized as woefully slow.
The military, which has ruled since 1962, has taken control of most supplies sent by other countries, including the United States.
The U.S. military began its third day of aid delivery Wednesday as five more C-130 transport planes loaded with emergency supplies headed to Myanmar.
Canada has offered up to $2 million in emergency aid and a Canadian C-17 Globemaster cargo plane was being loaded with relief supplies at CFB Trenton in eastern Ontario on Wednesday.
Officials said about 2,000 emergency shelter kits would be distributed by the Red Cross once the flight arrives in Thailand.
Rain has been pounding the delta all week, and more is expected in the coming days, compounding the difficult task of moving supplies over ruined roads. It also poses significant health risks to survivors of the May 3 cyclone.
"The weather will exacerbate humanitarian conditions for the homeless, many of whom are living under an open sky," said Elizabeth Griffin, a director of Catholic Relief Services from Baltimore. "Thankfully, no serious outbreaks of bacterial, water or mosquito-borne diseases have been reported, but this could change."
The U.S. military's Joint Typhoon Warning Center said there is a good chance "a significant tropical cyclone" will form within the next 24 hours and head across the Irrawaddy delta area.
But other forecasters were unwilling to make such a prediction.
News of a possible second cyclone was not broadcast by Myanmar's state-controlled media. But Yangon residents learned about it from foreign broadcasts and the Internet.
Dr. Thawat Sutharacha of Thailand's Public Health Ministry said the junta has given permission to a Thai medical team to go to the delta.
The government separately announced that it will allow 160 relief workers from neighbouring countries - India, China, Bangladesh and Thailand - to enter Myanmar. It was not clear if they would be allowed to travel to the delta.
"The government has a responsibility to assist their people in the event of a natural disaster," said Amanda Pitt of the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs.
"We are here to do what we can and facilitate their efforts and scale up their response. It is clearly inadequate and we do not want to see a second wave of death as a result of that not being scaled up," she said.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday he was convening key donors and Myanmar's neighbours to weigh options for speeding aid to cyclone victims, including a possible international summit.
The UN meeting will discuss "concrete measures we can do from now on" to help people in Myanmar, Ban told reporters at UN headquarters. "The magnitude of this situation requires much more mobilization of resources and aid workers."
The UN chief said he has not been able to arrange direct talks with Myanmar junta chairman Senior Gen. Than Shwe, despite repeated calls and letters.
Soldiers have barred foreign aid workers from reaching cyclone survivors in the hardest-hit areas, but did give access to an International Red Cross representative who returned to Yangon on Tuesday.
Bridget Gardner, the agency's country head, described tremendous devastation but also selflessness, as survivors joined in the rescue efforts.
"People who have come here having lost their homes in rural areas have volunteered to work as first aiders. They are humanitarian heroes," she said.
Gardner's team visited five locations in the Irrawaddy delta. In one of them, they saw 10,000 people living without shelter as rain tumbled from the sky.
"The town of Labutta is unrecognizable. I have been here before and now, with the extent of the damage and the crowds of displaced people, it's a different place," Gardner was quoted as saying in a statement.