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Monday, November 26, 2007

After sidor : US marines assist stepped up relief effort in Bangladesh

US marines were on the ground in cyclone-hit southern Bangladesh Sunday as the military-led relief operation was stepped up and international aid continued to pour in.

More than 3,400 people have been confirmed dead and the government estimates that 360,000 people have been left homeless by cyclone Sidr which smashed into the southern coast on November 15, prompting a massive aid operation.

"The relief operation has gathered pace with the arrival of more aid from donor countries, agencies and private charities. We've also got increased logistics support," said Navy commander Bashir Ahmed, who is coordinating help to the worst-hit Barguna district.

Sidr was the second most powerful storm to hit the country since records began, experts say.

Ahmed said he believed virtually all survivors had now received at least two deliveries of aid.

The needs, however, remained huge and it would take weeks to ensure adequate supplies to all victims, he added.

US marines from the USS Kearsarge, which arrived off the coast of Bangladesh on Friday, were carrying out air lifts of water and other supplies for a second day, a US embassy official said.

In the badly-hit Patharghata town, local administrator Salim Khan told AFP supplies were finally reaching victims.

"The emergency crisis is overcome," he said, adding, however, that more materials would be needed later.

Aid workers said getting fresh water to victims remained a priority as the prospect of outbreaks of water-borne diseases looms.

Many of those in coastal districts have seen their traditional sources of drinking water contaminated by saline water which cannot be treated by water purification tablets.

Authorities fully expect the death toll to rise.

"Some 1,734 people are missing," said Major Nawrose, who uses one name, of the armed forces control room, adding that many of those unaccounted for were likely to have been swept away by the tidal surge.

Others were fishermen who "went out to sea before the cyclone and did not return, although we cannot say they are all dead yet," Nawrose added.

In Patharghata, popularly known as the fishing capital of Bangladesh, the industry directly supports 200,000 people.

Coastguards and the government's weather department had warned boats to stay in port as the cyclone approached. But many villagers told AFP they did not take the warning seriously because of frequent previous alerts.

In a sign of the precarious situation, one person died and 10 more were seriously injured Saturday when a bridge in the southern Patuakhali district collapsed under the weight of 1,000 people queueing for relief.

Bangladesh is one of the world's poorest countries where 40 percent of the 144 million population lives on less than a dollar a day.

The United Nations estimates that the cyclone has affected 6.7 million people in 30 of the country's 64 districts, causing severe economic losses.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN said 92,000 hectares of crops had been ruined, 500,000 hectares partly damaged and around 350,000 livestock lost.

"Serious damage has also been observed in the fisheries and shrimp aquaculture sectors," a statement said.

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