Bangladesh storm toll exceeds 3,000

Millions of people left homeless in trail of destruction wrought by cyclone Sidr.

    Residents of the country's southern coastal districts have borne the full brunt of cyclone Sidr [AFP]
    "The death toll has already reached 3,000 confirmed dead," M Abdur Rab, chairman of the Bangladeshi Red Crescent Society, told AFP news agency.
     
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    Thousands stranded
    without aid

    Military ships and helicopters are trying to reach thousands of people believed to be stranded on islands in the Bay of Bengal and in coastal areas that have been cut off.
     
    Navy ships have scoured coastal areas and sought to clear river channels clogged with sunken vessels.
     
    Most of the deaths came as homes were washed away or blown down
    as cyclone Sidr struck the country's southern coastline late on Thursday night with 250kph winds that whipped up a tidal surge.
     
    'Early warning'
     
    Salvano Briceno, head of the UN's International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, told Al Jazeera: "Clearly, the numbers show it could have been worse, the storm surge was quite quite strong.
     
    "However, it can be reduced by managing better the preparedness, not just the response. The response I think is quite well managed."
     

    "Clearly, the numbers show it could have been worse, the storm surge was quite quite strong"

    Salvano Briceno, head of the UN's International Strategy for Disaster Reduction

    Before cyclone Sidr hit, the government activated its early warning and preparedness systems, evacuating about 3.2 million people from along the coastline in 15 districts.
     
    Of those, the government said more than 600,000 people were placed in the country's 2,000 cyclone shelters. Others were taken to higher ground.
     
    Stockpiled relief and rescue items were released and more than 730 medical teams are now working in the affected areas.
     
    As cyclones are a recurring problem in Bangladesh, the country has this year invested $1m of its modest budget on flood prevention and relief provisions.
     
    It has implemented a joint programme with the charity Care International to deal with flood prevention, and it is working on a long-term flood control initiative with the World Bank, which could construct huge embankments along the great rivers of the Bangladesh delta.
     
    "Things are moving forward, we are seeing quite an advancement," Briceno said. "The challenge is climate change will make things worse."
     
    Homes destroyed
     

    The UN and the European Commission have
    pledged emergency aid to Bangladesh [AFP]

    Residents in southern districts near the coast told of their terror as they bore the brunt of the storm.
      
    Fulmala Begum, 40, said she was not warned to evacuate and had to take refuge under a bed with her husband and two children as the storm roared around her.
      
    "Five hours later we found ourselves under a heap of tin roofs and two huge trees. Not a single house in my village was spared the catastrophe," she said.
     
    Experts describe Sidr as similar in strength to the 1991 storm that triggered a tidal wave, killing an estimated 140,000 people.

    Another cyclone in 1970 killed up to half a million people.
      
    But officials are hoping the death toll, while high, will not reach the scale of previous disasters because of a network of cyclone shelters and an early-warning and evacuation system.

    The UN has pledged several millions dollar in aid while the European Commission said it is sending $2.2m in emergency relief to Bangladesh.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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