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Bangladesh Cyclone Death Toll Hits 15,000

Jay Shankar - UK Telegraph

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November 19, 2007

Up to 15,000 people were killed and seven million lives left devastated by the cyclone in Bangladesh last week, aid agencies have said as the full extent of the disaster became clear.

Photo: In the worst affected districts, 90 pc of homes and 95 pc of rice crops and valuable prawn farms were obliterated by the winds.

The Bangladeshi Red Crescent Society, the country's main humanitarian group, said that more than 3,000 bodies had already been recovered from villages shattered by Cyclone Sidr's 150mph winds.

While the official death toll remains low, Save the Children last night said that it feared that 15,000 people could have died while the Red Crescent estimated around 10,000.

An international relief effort, supported by donations from the UN, Britain, US and Europe, was slowly grinding into gear yesterday as the International Red Cross estimated 900,000 families had been affected.

Previous cyclones killed 500,000 people in 1970 and 143,000 in 1991 - however local officials said the impact would now fall on the many survivors.

In the worst affected districts, 90 per cent of homes and 95 per cent of rice crops and valuable prawn farms were obliterated by the winds, which generated a 20ft tidal surge that swept everything from its path.

Fallen trees and flooded roads are also seriously impeding the relief crews' efforts to reach stricken coastal villages, with elephants being used in some areas to clear the heaviest debris.

Tapan Chowdhury, a government adviser for food and disaster management, described the cyclone as a "national calamity" and urged all to come forward to help the victims.

Relief operators on the ground said supplies were still inadequate and that the government should make an immediate plea for more international aid to avert a "human disaster".

"I have never seen such a catastrophe in my 20 years as a government administrator," said Harisprasad Pal, an official from Barguna District, "Village after village has been shattered. Millions of people are living out in the open and relief is reaching less than one percent of the people."

When reached, victims are being found dehydrated and in a state of shock.

Photo: Officials described the humanitarian situation in coastal districts like Barguna, 130 miles south of the capital Dhaka, as the "worst in decades", a grave assertion in a country that is used to dealing with annual floods and storms.

Officials described the humanitarian situation in coastal districts as the 'worst in decades'

"I lost six of my family members in the cyclone. I am afraid that the rest of us will die of hunger," said Sattar Gazi, a 55-year-old farmer in the village of Nishanbari.

"For the corpses we don't have clothes to wrap them in for burial. We are wrapping the bodies in leaves."

Britain announced immediate aid of £2.5 million, while the United States ordered two warships from the Bay of Bengal to assist with rescue and relief efforts, air-lifting supplies to areas cut off by flooding.

Lord Malloch Brown, the Foreign Office minister, said: "We have offered our immediate support to relief efforts through the UN and stand ready to provide more assistance when required."

The Pope appealed for immediate international aid for those stricken by the disaster in Bangladesh.

"In renewing my deep condolences to the families and the entire nation, which is very dear to me, I appeal to international solidarity," he said.

"I encourage all possible efforts to help these brothers who are suffering so much."