Dhaka, Nov 19: Nearly four days after Bangladesh's worst cyclone since 1991 killed at least 2,350 people, rescuers were struggling to reach some devastated areas and officials feared the toll could climb sharply.
''We are trying to reach all the affected areas on the vast coastline as soon as possible, when we will know how many people have exactly died in the devastation,'' one government official said today.
Media reports and Bangladesh Red Crescent Society chairman, Mohammad Abdur Rob said the death toll had already surpassed 3,000, and was likely to go up. The government put the official toll at 2,350 confirmed dead.
While it will take several days to determine the number of dead and missing, some 3 million survivors who were either evacuated from the low-lying southern coast or whose homes and villages were destroyed will need support, the government said.
Aid workers fear inadequate supplies of food, drinking water and medicine could lead to outbreaks of disease.
Grieving families begged for clothes to wrap around the bodies of dead relatives for burial. In some areas, they put corpses in mass graves.
Valley of death: ''The tragedy unfolds as we walk through one after another devastated village,'' said relief operator Mohammad Selim in Bagerhat, one of the worst hit areas. ''Often it looks like we are in a valley of death.'' Rotting human and animal carcasses float down the rivers, and the stench of death fills the air. Relatives try to identify and bring them ashore, and bury them without a proper funeral.
Military ships and helicopters were trying to reach thousands of people believed stranded on islands in the Bay of Bengal and in coastal areas still cut off by the devastating storm.
Officials in affected areas say the death toll given by the ministry is far below the real numbers and aid agencies have said the toll could rise to 10,000 or more. ''Some 2,000 people have died in my area alone,'' said Anwar Panchayet in Bagerhat district.
A huge effort was underway to get food, drinking water and shelter to tens of thousands affected by the storm, the worst to hit disaster-prone Bangladesh since 1991 when nearly 143,000 people died in a cyclone and the tidal surge it triggered.
A much improved disaster preparedness plan, including storm shelters built all along the southern coastline since the 1991 storm, has been credited with saving hundreds of lives.
Pope appeals for aid: Pope Benedict called yesterday for international aid for Bangladesh.The Bangladesh Red Crescent Society has appealed to the International Red Cross for 6 million dollars, while the European Union and the United have pledged millions more.
''In renewing my deep condolences to the families and the entire nation, which is very dear to me, I appeal to international solidarity,'' the pope said.
''I encourage all possible efforts to help these brothers who are suffering so much.'' Cyclone Sidr smashed into the country's southern coastline late on Thursday with 250 kph winds that whipped up a five metre (16 feet) tidal surge.
Most of the deaths came from the surge washing away homes and strong winds blowing down dwellings. Many others drowned or were lost at sea.
Two US Navy amphibious assault ships with helicopters, the USS Essex and the USS Kearsarge, were sailing to Bangladesh to help in relief and rescue operations, a US embassy statement said yesterday.
Helicopters flew sorties to devastated areas, dropping food, drinking water and medicine for the survivors. ''But there are not many places where we can land,'' said one pilot, as large areas were still under water.