Official death toll from cyclone in Bangladesh reaches 1,723; expected to continue to rise

Sunday, November 18, 2007
Cyclone affected villagers carry corrugated iron sheeting to repair their damaged house in Potuakhali, 152 kilometers (95 miles) south of Bangladesh's capital Saturday, Nov.17, 2007. The official death toll from a savage cyclone in Bangladesh reached 1,723 on Saturday as military helicopters and ships joined rescue efforts in the wake of the deadliest storm to hit the country in a decade.(AP Photo/ Pavel Rahman)

DHAKA, Bangladesh -- Hundreds of thousands of survivors were stuck Saturday behind roads blocked by fallen trees, iron roofs and thick sludge as rescue workers fought to reach towns along Bangladesh's coast that were ravaged by a powerful cyclone that killed at least 1,723 people.

Tropical Cyclone Sidr, the deadliest storm to hit the country in a decade, destroyed tens of thousands of homes in southwest Bangladesh on Thursday and ruined much-needed crops just before harvest season in this impoverished, low-lying South Asian country. More than a million coastal villagers were forced to evacuate to government shelters.

The official death toll rose to 1,723 and authorities feared the figure could rise further as the country works to recover.

The government scrambled Saturday to join international agencies and local officials in the rescue mission, deploying military helicopters, thousands of troops and naval ships.

Rescuers trying to get food and water to people stranded by flooding struggled to clear roads that were so bad they said they'll have to return on bicycles.

A Bangladeshi shopkeeper helps local residents recharge their cell phones with his power generator Saturday after Tropical Cyclone Sidr wreaked havoc on the country's electricity and telephone lines in Potuakhali, 95 miles south of Bangladesh's capital Dhaka. (Pavel Rahman ~ Associated Press)

"We will try again tomorrow on bicycles, and hire local country boats," M. Shakil Anwar of CARE said from the city of Khulna.

Along the coast, 150 mph winds flung small ferries ashore like toy boats, cutting off migrant fishing communities who live on and around hundreds of tiny islands across the area's web of river channels.

Many of the evacuees who managed to return home Saturday found their straw and bamboo huts had been flattened by the storm.

Bodies were found among muddy paddy fields and along river channels, said Bishnu Prashad Chakravorty, a local journalist who visited the hard-hit coastal area of Bagerhat.

"Advance warnings from the weather office helped us take shelter, but still, the damage is colossal," said Abu Hanif, 60, a Bagerhat resident.

Relatives carried an injured person to a hospital Saturday in Potuakhali, 95 miles south of Bangladesh's capital Dhaka. (Pavel Rahman ~ Associated Press)

The government has allocated $5.2 million in emergency aid for rebuilding houses in the cyclone-affected areas, a government statement said.

The German government offered $731,345 while the European Union released $2.2 million in relief aid. The World Food Program was rushing food to the country.

Bangladesh's interim government head, Fakhruddin Ahmed, visited some of the affected areas Friday and Saturday and assured cyclone victims of government assistance.

Bangladesh President Iajuddin Ahmed, meanwhile, was expected to visit some of the worst-hit areas in coming days.

An estimated 2.7 million people were affected and 773,000 houses were damaged, according to the Ministry of Disaster Management.

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