Rescuers searched for bodies yesterday after a bridge collapsed under the weight of thousands of hungry cyclone survivors stampeding for food in southern Bangladesh, but were struggling to shift a massive concrete slab obstructing their efforts.
Dozens of people were injured and one died when a section of the bridge fell into a river in Kalapara subdistrict on Saturday, police official Mohammad Yunus said. Kalapara is in Patuakhali district, one of the areas hardest hit by Tropical Cyclone Sidr earlier this month.
At least two people remained missing, Yunus said, adding that rescuers were not expecting to find any survivors under the slab in the 6m deep river.
"We'll continue our operations," he said by phone from Kalapara.
The collapse of the bridge was the latest blow to the already impoverished region of southern Bangladesh where survivors of the Nov. 15 cyclone, which killed more than 3,100 people and destroyed more than 450,000 homes, were struggling to restart their lives.
Aid workers' attempts to deliver critical supplies and medical services were already hampered after roads and communications routes were blocked or destroyed by debris from the storm.
The US Navy was assisting in the relief efforts.
The USS Kearsarge, carrying about 20 helicopters and relief supplies, was docked off the country's coast as naval officers made arrangements to deliver large aid packages to the battered region and the USS Essex, was due to arrive in coming days, US embassy spokeswoman Amy Vrampas said.
Officers were dispensing medical assistance from a clinic aboard the Kearsarge, Bangladesh army Leautenant Colonel Main Ullah Chowdhury said.
The cyclone destroyed many wells, and clean water supplies were necessary to prevent the spread of cholera and severe diarrhea. On Friday, the US Navy delivered 11,355 liters of drinking water to hard-hit Barisal district.
"We've been told that water was the most crucial," Vrampas said.
Bangladesh has received pledges of international aid of more than US$500 million, including US$250 million from the World Bank.
Authorities would distribute 15kg of rice per month to each of an estimated 2.5 million people left destitute by the storm, many in crowded relief camps, starting on Saturday, said Tapan Chowdhoury, the government's adviser on food and disaster management. The program will last at least four months, he said.
Kelly Stevenson, the Bangladesh director of Save the Children, estimated that more than half of the region's rice crop was destroyed, which could leave up to 3 million people hungry in coming months.
The official death toll from the cyclone stood at 3,199, said Major Nowroz Ehsan, a spokesman for the army, which is coordinating the relief and rescue work.
The Disaster Management Ministry said 1,724 people were missing and 28,188 people had been injured. It said the cyclone destroyed 458,804 houses and partially damaged another 665,529.