Deadly Cyclone: Aid Begins to Reach Bangladesh Storm Survivors

The death toll from Cyclone Sidr has topped 2,400, and some groups are warning that it might reach 10,000. As rescue efforts continue, aid is beginning to reach the three million Bangladeshis displaced by the storm.

Aid arrived in regions of Bangladesh devastated last week by a violent cyclone as the death toll from the storm reached 2,400 people.

Tropical Cyclone Sidr, the worst storm to hit Bangladesh in a decade, battered the country's low-lying coastline late last Thursday. Winds up to 150 miles per hour and 16-foot surge waves washed away hundreds of homes and farms and displaced three million Bangladeshis.

Military ships and helicopters are still searching for survivors on islands in the Bay of Bengal and along the country's flooded southern coastline. As the rescue mission continues, aid is reaching the three million people who have been evacuated to refugee camps.

Already international organizations have promised $25 million to the effort. The German government allotted €700,000 ($1 million) to the relief program, and the European Union contributed $2.2 million.

France will match Germany's contribution, while the British government offered $5 million. The United States has offered $2 million. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that the international body would provide millions from an emergency response fund.

Even as helicopters begin to bring desperately needed, high-protein food to survivors, other necessities -- like tents, rice and water -- are still in short supply.

"In the last few days, we've been without water and food," Sattar Gazi, a 55 year-old survivor of the storm, told the AFP news agency. "I'm afraid that after three more days like this, we will starve."

Government officials in Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital, have requested an additional $6 million from the Red Cross and UNICEF officials working with the relief effort have appealed to international leaders to offer even more support.

"I urge the international community to keep Bangladesh high on its priority (list) as the rehabilitation following the devastating cyclone is going to need as much support as possible," said Louis Georges Arsenault of UNICEF in a statement.

During his weekly address on Sunday in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI urged the international community to offer generous aid to the storm-stricken country. "I encourage every possible effort to help our brothers who have been so sorely tested," he said.

Relatives began to bury the storm's victims on Monday. Many were buried in communal graves and most families forewent proper funeral rites as the stench of death settled over rivers and flooded fields in afflicted regions.

The country's Disaster Management Ministry raised the official death count to 2,407, but warned that it was likely to climb even higher as rescue workers reach isolated islands and coastal villages. The Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, the Islamic equivalent of the Red Cross, cautioned that the toll might reach 10,000 dead.

Violent storms often wreak havoc on Bangladesh, a low-lying country of over 140 million residents. Cyclone Sidr is the nation's deadliest storm since 1996, when a tornado levelled 80 villages in northern Bangladesh and killed 621 people. More than half a million died in a cyclone in 1970.

pmm/ap/Reuters

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