Bangladesh cyclone death toll reaches 1,100
Last updated : Saturday, 17 November , 2007, 00:51
Dhaka: Aid workers struggled to help hundreds of thousands of survivors of a cyclone that slammed into the coast with 240-kmph winds, killing at least 1,100 people, savaging waterfront towns and villages and plunging much of the country into darkness, a Bangladeshi news agency said on Friday.
Rescuers struggled through washed-out roads and areas blocked by wind-blown debris to get water and emergency food supplies to people stranded by floodwaters from Tropical Cyclone Sidr, witnesses said.
The winds wreaked havoc on the country's electricity and telephone lines, affecting even areas that were spared a direct hit by the storm, and leaving the full extent of the death and destruction unclear. By late Friday, about 24 hours after the cyclone made landfall, officials were still struggling to get reports in from many of the worst-hit districts.
Dhaka, the capital city of this poor, desperately crowded nation of 15 crore people, remained without power on Friday night. Strong winds uprooted trees and sent billboards flying through the air, injuring several people, said Ashraful Zaman, an official at the main emergency control room.
The government's most recent announcement put the death toll at 242, but the emergency control room, in Dhaka, had little up-to-date information. Dalil-ud-Din, an official with the Ministry of Disaster Management, said the official toll would go much higher than 242 once more updates were received.
But the United News of Bangladesh news agency, which has reporters deployed across the devastated region, said they had made their own count in each affected district, leaving a death toll of at least 1,100.
Hasanul Amin, assistant director of the cyclone preparedness programme sponsored by the government and the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, said about a dozen teams had been deployed to the worst-hit areas in the country's southwest.
But it was slow going. In the village of Sharankhola, in one of the hardest hit areas, some villagers waited for hours to get some dry biscuits and rice, according to a United News of Bangladesh reporter, Bishnu Prasad, who went there.
''We have lost everything,'' a local farmer, Moshararf Hossain, told Prasad. ''We have nowhere to go.''
Bagerhat is 136 km south of Dhaka, very close to the Bay of Bengal.
The cyclone roared across the country's southwestern coast late Thursday with driving rain and high waves, levelling thousands of flimsy huts, uprooting trees, and destroying crops and fish farms in 15 coastal districts, officials and witnesses said.
Downpours and high winds also spawned a water surge 1.2m high that swept through low-lying areas and some offshore islands, leaving them under water, said Nahid Sultana, an official of the Ministry of Food and Disaster Management.
At least 6,50,000 coastal villagers moved on Thursday to cyclone shelters where they were given emergency rations, Ali Imam Majumder, a senior government official, told reporters in Dhaka.
Volunteers from international aid agencies including the UN World Food Programme, Save the Children and the US-based Christian aid group World Vision have joined the relief effort.
World Vision is putting together seven-day relief packages for families that will include rice, oil, sugar, salt, candles and blankets, according to Vince Edwards, the agency's Bangladesh director.
But Edwards said debris from the storm has blocked roads and rivers, making it difficult to reach all the areas that had been hit.
''There has been lot of damage to houses made of mud and bamboo, and about 60 to 80 per cent of the trees have been uprooted,'' Edwards said.
But by late Friday evening, work had resumed at the country's two main seaports — Chittagong and Mongla — as well Chittagong and Dhaka airports, authorities said.
The storm spared India's eastern coast, where the weather was calm. India's Meteorological Department had forecast heavy rain and flooding in West Bengal and Orissa.
Bangladesh, a low-lying delta nation, is prone to seasonal cyclones and floods that cause huge loss of life and property.
In 1970, between 3,00,000 and 5,00,000 people were killed when a cyclone slammed into the Bangladesh coast, and some 1,40,000 died in 1991.
After the 1991 cyclone, foreign donors and Bangladeshi government agencies began building emergency shelters —concrete boxes raised on pillars, each able to hold anywhere from a few hundred to 3,000 people.
More than 2,000 shelters have since been built.
Many prayers go out to all those impacted by this storm. Please join in sending stregnth, energy, and prayer to those in Bangladesh.