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Struggle to help cyclone survivors in Bangladesh

  • Story Highlights
  • Fights break out among survivors at relief centers
  • Official death toll stands at 3,167; estimated 4 million displaced
  • Villagers in Bangladesh say official death toll estimates lower than the reality
  • Red Crescent Society official says deaths could rise to 5,000-10,000
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PURBA SARALIA, Bangladesh (AP) -- Overburdened relief centers scrambled to help tens of thousands of cyclone survivors Wednesday, and fist fights broke out among victims waiting for rice at a food distribution center.

Villagers fight as they wait to receive aid outside a relief center

Nearly 2,000 people descended on a government-run relief camp in Purba Saralia, hurriedly set up in a firehouse, where officials only had food for 1,200.

"This is a crisis. I don't have enough food and we have no work," said Lal Mia, a farmer waiting in line.

A few miles away in the village of Basal Bar, fist fights broke out among cyclone survivors as thousands of people who had gathered before dawn at a food distribution center set up by a local aid group.

The official death toll stood at 3,167 on Wednesday, said Lt. Col. Main Ullah Chowdhury, spokesman for the army, which is coordinating the relief and rescue work. Another 1,724 people were missing, the Disaster Management Ministry said.

The Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, the Islamic equivalent of the Red Cross, has suggested the final figure could be around 10,000.

The coastal area battered by Cyclone Sidr, meanwhile, has been struck with waterborne diseases, Dhaka's Daily Star newspaper reported, quoting local health officials. Two children died of diarrhea in the hard-hit district of Patuakhali, the newspaper reported.

The Health Ministry said it has opened a special desk to monitor any diarrhea outbreaks. It could not immediately confirm the two reported deaths.

"We are concerned about diarrhea," Renata Dessallien, the top U.N. official in Bangladesh told The Associated Press. "There is no question this will be a problem."

She said water usually gets contaminated by diarrhea-causing bacteria following floods and cyclones.

"But I understand that the health ministry has stock of medicines and the most important thing now is to get the supplies down to the affected areas," she said.

The Disaster Management Ministry said 28,188 people had been injured by the storm. The cyclone also destroyed 458,804 houses and another 665,529 houses have been partially damaged, the ministry said.

Aid agencies and U.N. officials were visiting the affected areas to assess the damage and the aid need, said Sakil Faizullah, a spokesman for the United Nations Development Program in Bangladesh.

Food, fresh water and temporary shelter still had not reached many of the exhausted survivors six days after the cyclone slammed into the low-lying country. Photo See dramatic photos of storm survivors »

In a televised speech Tuesday, the country's interim leader, Fakhruddin Ahmed, described the cyclone as "a national calamity" and urged citizens to help the affected people.

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The government said international aid worth about $390 million had been promised so far. But relief items such as tents, rice and water have been slow to reach most survivors of the worst cyclone to hit Bangladesh in a decade.

On Wednesday, the World Bank announced a relief package of $250 million, consisting of a low-interest loan and a grant.

Earlier, the European Commission announced Tuesday aid of $9.6 million. The American Red Cross said it would provide $1.2 million to help get clean water to the survivors and build emergency shelters.Video Watch as people are left to fend for themselves »

"The problem is that aid workers need hours to reach these remote areas. Poor communications are also hampering our work," said Anwarul Huq, a spokesman for the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, the country's largest nonprofit development organization.


In many places, aid workers had to clear fallen trees and debris to get to survivors, said Huq, adding that rescuers also were facing a shortage of boats.

The storm, which tore along Bangladesh's southwestern coast on Thursday, left tens of thousands of people homeless and desperate for help. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Copyright 2007 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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