Rescue process on at cyclone-hit Bangla

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Dhaka, Nov 17: Military ships and helicopters were today trying to reach thousands of survivors of a super cyclone that killed at least 900 people and pummeled the impoverished country with mighty winds and waves.

Cyclone Sidr smashed into Bangladesh's southern coastline late on Thursday night with 250-kph (155 mph) winds that whipped up a 5-metre tidal surge. It was the strongest cyclone since a 1991 storm killed some 143,000 people in this country.

Navy ships scoured the coastal areas for hundreds of people reported missing after the storm and also to clear river channels clogged with sunken vessels to restore normal navigation, officials said.

Helicopters flew sorties to devastated areas, dropping food, drinking water and medicine for the survivors.

The official death toll from the cyclone was more than 900 but some newspapers today gave figures between 1,100 and 2,000, quoting their reporters in the devastated areas.

''It will take several days to complete the search and know the actual casualty figure and extent of damage to property,'' said food and disaster ministry official Ayub Miah.

Aid officials described the damage from the storm, which blew away homes and ripped out trees and power lines, as extremely severe. Most of the country plunged into darkness yesterday after the electricity grid was knocked out.

Many parts of Dhaka, the capital city of 10 million people, were still without power today. UN agencies and Red Crescent officials said some 1,000 fishermen were still unaccounted for in the Bay of Bengal, onboard about 150 boats.

Fishing community leaders in Cox's Bazar and Barisal said they still expected some of the missing crew to return safely. In past storms, many fishing boats had taken shelter in the Sundarban mangrove forests and survived, said Shohel Ahmed, a Barisal fisherman.

The Sundarban, home to the endangered Royal Bengal tigers and a World Heritage site, took the brunt of the latest storm and forest officials said many wildlife could have died.

The Category 4 cyclone devastated three coastal towns and forced 3.2 million people to evacuate, officials and aid agencies said.

It lost strength after landfall and passed over the country early on Friday, weather officials said.

In New York, John Holmes, the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said his office would make available ''several million dollars'' in emergency aid, but he declined to name a specific figure.

The UN's World Food Programme said it was sending 98 metric tonnes of high-energy biscuits, enough for 400,000 people for three days.

''The urgent needs are food, water purification tablets and medicines,'' WFP spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume said.

Storms batter the country every year. A severe cyclone killed half a million people in 1970, while another in 1991 killed 143,000.

Many of the country's 140 million people live around low-lying river deltas vulnerable to tidal surges.


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