At least 1,100 people are dead and tens of thousands homeless in the wake of a major cyclone that slammed into low-lying coastal areas of Bangladesh before losing strength as it moved inland, a local news agency said Friday.
While government estimates had earlier put the death toll at 242, the United News of Bangladesh — which has reporters deployed across the devastated region — said the figure was at least 1,100.
The government, which has acknowledged problems accounting for the dead, said the driving rain and high waves had leveled homes and forced the evacuation of 650,000 villagers, officials said.
Downpours and high winds also spawned a storm surge 4 feet high that swept through low-lying areas and some offshore islands, leaving them under water, according to Nahid Sultana, an official at a cyclone control room in the capital, Dhaka.
Relief workers struggled Friday to bring aid to areas devastated by the initial impact of the storm, even though Cyclone Sidr had weakened into a tropical storm and was moving across the country to the northeast, with wind speed falling to 37 mph.
The cyclone flattened thousands of flimsy huts, uprooted trees, electricity and telephone poles, and destroyed crops and fish farms in 15 coastal districts, local government officials and witnesses said.
"There has been a lot of damage to houses made of mud and bamboo, and about 60 to 80 percent of the trees have been uprooted," said Vince Edwards, the Bangladesh director of the U.S.-based Christian aid group World Vision.
Edwards said debris from the storm have blocked roads and rivers, making it difficult to reach all of the areas that were hit.
Government teams also fanned out to deliver food and medicine, said Hasanul Amin of the cyclone preparedness program, supported by the government and the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society.
Power and communications in the capital, Dhaka, were also down. Strong winds uprooted trees, snapped power and telecommunication lines and sent billboards flying through the air, injuring several people, said Ashraful Zaman, another official at the cyclone control room.
At least 650,000 coastal villagers moved Thursday to cyclone shelters, where they were given emergency rations, Ali Imam Majumder, a senior government official, told reporters in Dhaka.
Bangladesh, a low-lying delta nation, is prone to seasonal cyclones and floods that cause huge losses of life and property.
From NPR reports and The Associated Press