Bangladesh struggles to cope with cyclone aftermath

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DHAKA, Nov 22 (Reuters) Bangladesh approved today US participation in relief operations as thousands of people made homeless by last week's cyclone are still waiting for aid to reach them, officials said.

Thousands of families along the battered coastline are living in the open, as early winter cold and fog make their lives more miserable a week after the cyclone that killed around 3,500 people.

''Please try to send food to the survivors fast, because their is nothing to eat. Even people can not breathe normally due to the stench of the dead,'' said survivor Anwar Hossain, who is also a village chief.

''Some food packets were air-dropped, but this is not adequate for thousands of survivors,'' he said.

US navy ships USS Essex and the USS Kearsarge, each carrying 20 or more helicopters, were expected to arrive at Chittagong port on Saturday or early Sunday.

''The Bangladesh government in a high-level meeting has approved U.S. participation in the ongoing relief operation and will welcome ships on arrival,'' Brigadier-General Kazi Abidus Samad, a operations commander, told Reuters.

Abidus earlier said Bangladesh army officials were sorting out operational details of two U.S. C-130 transport aircraft that arrived late on Sunday carrying 35 tonnes of relief materials.

He said the aircraft would stay to assist relief operations after the arrival of the U.S. ships, which would be based in Chittagong to conduct relief operations.

While the Bangladesh army was supervising the relief operations, food, clothing and shelter was not reaching all those in need.

''There is still a lack of coordination in the field level,'' the widely read Dhaka daily, Samakal.

Reporters on the scene said food, medicine and drinking water were reaching survivors, but many were being left out. Diarrhoea and other diseases have broken out in some affected districts.

The United Nations said today it was making available a second round of emergency funding for aid to cyclone victims, bringing the total to nearly 15 million dollars.

''According to preliminary estimates, more than five million people in 30 districts were affected by the storm. Half of them, 2.5 million, need life-saving emergency assistance for the next two to three months,'' said Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Cyclone Sidr was the worst disaster to hit Bangladesh since 1991 when another cyclone killed around 143,000 people.

REUTERS PD KP1732

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