Mon, Nov 19, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Bangladesh to receive aid as death toll reaches 1,800

ASSISTANCE The US, which is deploying two vessels to the area, says it will provide 35 tonnes of non-food items, while Germany and the EU said it would send relief aid

AP , DHAKA

Rescuers fought their way through blocked roads as tens of thousands of cyclone survivors awaited relief aid yesterday amid their wrecked homes and flooded fields, while the storm's death toll neared 1,800.

The government deployed military helicopters, naval ships and thousands of troops to join international agencies and local officials in the rescue mission following Cyclone Sidr.

Rescuers struggled to clear roads and get their vehicles through, but many found the blockages impassable.

"We will try again ... on bicycles, and hire local country boats," M Shakil Anwar of CARE said from the city of Khulna.

At least 1.5 million coastal villagers had fled to shelters where they were given emergency rations, senior government official Ali Imam Majumder said in Dhaka.

The official death toll stood at 1,784, but authorities fear the figure could rise as more rescuers reach ravaged areas.

Private TV station Channel-i said the death toll had crossed 2,000 as rescue workers found more bodies. It did not give details about where it got the information. Dhaka's Sangbad newspaper put the death toll at more than 4,000, based on reports from its correspondents in affected areas. Neither report could be independently verified.

"We have seen more bodies floating in the sea," fisherman Zakir Hossain from the country's southwest said, after reaching shore with two decomposing bodies he and other fishermen had found on their way.

The worst-hit area was Bagerhat district, where 610 people died, said Ashraful Zaman, an official at a cyclone monitoring center in Dhaka.

Sidr's 240kph winds smashed tens of thousands of homes on Thursday in southwestern Bangladesh and ruined much-needed crops just before the harvest season. Ferries were flung ashore like toy boats.

Aid organizations said they feared food shortages and contaminated water could lead to widespread problems if people remain stranded.

A government early warning program saved many lives, said a statement from UN Resident Coordinator Renata Dessallien.

An estimated 2.7 million people were affected and 773,000 houses were damaged, the Ministry of Disaster Management said. Roughly 250,000 cattle and poultry perished and crops were destroyed along huge swaths of land.

The government has allocated 350 million takas (US$5.2 million) in emergency aid for rebuilding houses, the government said.

Several countries have pledged to help.

The US offered its condolences to the cyclone victims on Saturday. Washington has provided US$2.1 million in initial emergency relief aide, a statement from press secretary Dana Perino said.

She said that the ships USS Essex and the USS Kearsage were en route to Bangladesh to help with relief operations and that the US would airlift 35 tonnes of non-food items such as plastic sheeting, hygiene kits and other supplies.

The German government offered 500,000 euros (US$731,000), while the EU released 1.5 million euros in relief aid.

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