A severe cyclone has killed more than 500 people in Bangladesh and left thousands injured or missing, triggering an international relief effort yesterday to help the army-backed interim government cope with the disaster.
Local officials and Red Crescent workers said 508 deaths have been confirmed. Hundreds more were injured or missing after Cyclone Sidr struck overnight packing winds of 250kph.
The Category 4 cyclone brought with it a 5m high tidal surge that devastated the coastal towns of Patuakhali, Barguna and Jhalakathi and forced 3.2 million people to evacuate, officials and aid agencies said.
Fakhruddin Ahmed, chief of Bangladesh's army-backed interim government, flew to some devastated districts on the coasts of the Bay of Bengal yesterday to see the extent of damage to lives and property, officials said.
The cyclone, which followed devastating floods over the summer that killed more than 1,000 people, posed a new challenge to the interim administration, mainly tasked to hold a free and fair election before the end of next year.
Communication links to the devastated area have been cut off. A government official in Dhaka said there was no immediate information about casualties from the region.
By early yesterday the storm had weakened to a tropical storm and had moved well inland northeast of Dhaka.
The navy has launched a search and rescue operation while helicopters began ferrying relief supplies to offshore islands, the defense ministry said.
Most of the dead were killed by falling debris, said Nahid Sultana, an official at a cyclone control room in Dhaka.
However, three people were electrocuted in the capital.
Agriculture officials said that rice and other crops in the cyclone-battered areas were badly damaged and caused added suffering to the villagers who had earlier lost two crops in the floods.
"Life shall never be easy," said Mohammad Salam, a farmer in Khulna. "We are destined to suffer."
The cyclone also flattened thousands of flimsy huts, uprooted trees, electricity and telephone poles and destroyed fish farms in 15 coastal districts, local government officials and witnesses said.