Bangla cyclone claims thousands, official count touches 1070

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Bagerhat (Bangladesh), Nov 17 (UNI) The cyclone 'Sidr' which lashed Bangladesh coasts on Thursday devastating towns and villages may have claimed several thousand lives, though rescue officials have counted 1070 dead.

Army helicopters, navy ships and gunboats were pressed into rescue and relief operations in the country's south-western coastal districts battered by the deadly hurricane.

Eyewitnesses in the worst hit Sarankhola of Bagerhat district said muddy roads were littered with bodies, the air has become heavy with stench and survivors were numbed by the destruction and scale of the cyclone.

Loosing their kith and kin in the hungry claws of terrible tempest, villagers of Rajeswar, Rampal, Dublarchar were still searching in paddy field, bush or canals with forlorn hope to see if any one alive.

Several bodies were found 2 to 3 kilometers away from their houses as the 'Sidr' with a speed of 240kph had blown them off.

Alongside the storm, a tidal surge of 15-16 ft high washed away these offshore islands. Relief goods are too meagre to meet the demand perpetuated by the crisis.

Life in the villages came to a standstill. Many people virtually remain starved for last two days.

Many cattle heads were seen floating in rivulets and canals in Sundarbans that bore brunt of the storm. It is difficult to find dry place for their burial as waters were logged in the villages after the tidal surge.

Fate of several thousand people who were shifted from Dublarchar cyclone shelters to small channels in Sundarbans mangrove forest could not be known after 48 hours of the hurricane. They were shifted to the channels as the five cyclone centres could not accommodate them.

Unofficial sources put the death figure at more than 1,000 in worst hit Sarankhola, Mongla, Rampal, Kachua, Chitalmari, Dublachar and Sundarbans in Begerhat district alone.

Abu Hanif, 60 who had also witnessed the 1970's cyclone said Thursday night's Sidr was more powerful than 70's. He said advance warning from the met office helped them to take shelter but the damage to crop and infrastructure is colossal.

Navy, army, coast guard, police and officials are busy in rescue and relief operations but the relief is too scanty to meet the demand.

A navy team buried 39 bodies in Dublarchar while a coast guard team led by Capt Abidur Rahman rescued 180 people from remote village of Kochikhali of Bagerhat. Naval ship Turag reached the worst hit Dublarchar last night for rescue operation. Two more naval ship left Mongla for worst hit offshore islands to conduct rescue and relief operations.

Helicopters were also pressed into relief operations in the cyclone-hit districts. UNDP has sent several assessment teams to the affected areas to assess the damages.

Meanwhile Reuters add: 95% of standing rice crops have been badly damaged. The EU has given 2.1 million dollars with another 2.1 million dollars by Germany.

''This is a major tragedy with hundreds already known to have died and hundreds of thousands suffering,'' said Louis Michel, European Commissioner for humanitarian aid.

In New York, John Holmes, the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said his office would make available ''several million dollars'' in emergency aid.

UNI

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