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Bangladesh rescue effort goes on

Damaged houses at Potuakhali, Bangladesh - 17/11/2007

Rescuers are continuing efforts to try to reach people hit by a powerful cyclone that tore through southern Bangladesh killing at least 2,000.

Local newspapers are showing pictures of rows of bodies lined up on the sand. There are fears the death toll will rise as rescuers reach isolated areas.

Cyclone Sidr destroyed or damaged tens of thousands of homes, brought down power lines and wiped out vital crops.

Helicopters and ships are being used to get food and clean water to thousands.

Thousands of soldiers have joined international agencies and local officials in a massive relief operation, but debris and floods are hampering their efforts.

Shattered villages

Hundreds of villages along the coast of Bangladesh have been devastated.

Winds reaching up to 240km/h (150mph) and a tidal surge of several metres tore through the fragile wooden structures that many people live in.

I saw dozens of tin roofs flying into the air. Whole houses too
Manik Roy

"Village after village has been shattered," said Harisprasad Pal, a local official in hard-hit Jhalokati district.

"I have never seen such a catastrophe in my 20 years as a government administrator," he said.

Survivors described whole houses being picked up and blown away as the storm rushed through southern Bangladesh.

"I have never seen such a terrible scene. It was like hell," said Manik Roy, a businessman in Jhalokati.

"I saw dozens of tin roofs flying into the air. Whole houses too."

Crops lost

Many people were killed by flying debris. Others were washed away by the surge of water that the storm pushed ashore.

Bangladesh's director general of disaster management, Masood Siddiqui, told the BBC that the death toll had reached 2,000.

Aid delivery at Bagerhat in Khulna district, Bangladesh - 17/11/2007
A massive operation is under way to deliver much-needed supplies
"It will take several days to complete the search and know the actual casualty figure and the extent of damage to property," said Ayub Miah, an official with the food and disaster ministry.

A government early-warning system is being credited with saving many lives, but the damage to property and crops has been massive.

Officials say that in many areas 95% of rice which was awaiting harvest has been destroyed, and shrimp farms and other crops simply washed away.

Cyclone Sidr comes just a few months after floods devastated the north of the country.

Aid operation

Helicopters and ships are being used to ferry supplies to hard-hit areas along the coast.

On land, elephants are being employed to clear some of the heavier debris from roads.

Path of Cyclone Sidr across Bay of Bengal and Bangladesh

Several countries have promised help. The US has despatched two navy vessels to help with relief efforts and is planning to airlift shelters and hygiene kits.

Britain, Germany and the European Union have offered several million dollars in relief aid and the World Food Programme is rushing in food supplies.

The storm hit Bangladesh late on Thursday and passed through the capital Dhaka hours later, before dying down in the north-east of the country.

The biggest challenge for southern Bangladesh will now be reconstruction, the BBC's Mark Dummett says.

Southern Bangladesh is hit every year by cyclones and floods, but Cyclone Sidr is the most destructive storm to hit the country in more than a decade.

Another storm in 1991 left some 143,000 dead.

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