Military helicopters and ships joined rescue and relief operations yesterday, as aid workers on the ground struggled to reach the victims of a savage cyclone that tore apart villages and towns in southwest Bangladesh, killing a reported 1,100 people.
Tropical Cyclone Sidr flattened tens of thousands of homes on Thursday and left millions more without power in the deadliest storm in the impoverished South Asian country in more than a decade. More than 1 million coastal villagers were forced to evacuate to government shelters.
Rescuers battled along roads that were washed out or blocked by wind-blown debris to try to get water and food to people stranded by flooding. Some employed the brute force of elephants to help in their efforts.
The Ministry of Disaster Management, which has struggled to collect detailed information from the devastated area because of the disruptions to power and communications, put the official death toll at 932.
"The toll is rising fast, as we receive more information from outlying areas where telephone lines have been restored," said Mokhlesur Rahman, a ministry official in Dhaka.
Yesterday the army deployed helicopters to deliver supplies to the remotest areas, while navy ships delivered supplies and dispensed medical assistance to migrant fishing communities living on and around hundreds of tiny islands, or shoals, along the coast, the Inter Services Public Relations department said in a statement.
At least 270 people died in Patuakhali south of Dhaka, while Barguna suffered at least 160 deaths, Rahman said.
The United News of Bangladesh news agency, which has reporters deployed across the devastated region, said the count from each affected district put the death toll even higher, to at least 1,100.
The damage to lives, housing and crops will be "extremely severe," UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes said on Friday, adding that the world body was making millions of dollars in aid available to Bangladesh.
Several international humanitarian organizations, like UNICEF and CARE, were working alongside government and local volunteer agencies to provide safe drinking water and emergency supplies in the affected areas.
"We are hopeful that emergency preparedness in place and quick action has successfully reduced the loss of human life," Suman Islam of CARE Bangladesh said in an e-mail statement.
"But many people are now homeless, crops and livelihoods have been destroyed and this is going to put great pressure on the government, the economy, and the people themselves," he said.
The 240kph winds wreaked havoc on the country's electricity and telephone lines, affecting even areas that were spared a direct hit, and leaving the full picture of the death and destruction unclear.