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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 November 2007, 17:19 GMT
Bangladesh cyclone hits poor hardest
By Alastair Lawson
BBC News, Kalikapur, Bangladesh

Haroon Ukil's story is similar to those of many other people living in south-western Bangladesh.

Haroon Ukil
Mr Ukil was trapped for hours while his family members died

On the fateful night of the cyclone last Thursday, a tree was blown over, falling onto his house in the village of Kalikapur. It injured him and killed his wife and two of his daughters.

"That evening we went to bed as normal," he recalls

"But during the night we heard the winds growing stronger. Neither my wife nor I had heard any warning about a cyclone.

"At around midnight I woke up to what sounded like a bomb going off.

"I realised that I was trapped in my bed by the tree's branches and was unable to move.

"I could hear my wife screaming next to me, but I was unable to help her."

Burying loved ones

Eventually Mr Ukil managed to scramble free from his house.

"In the morning I found the bodies of my loved ones, and had to bury them myself."

Mr Ukil is now being comforted by his surviving daughters who were not in the house at the time.

Why have the authorities been so slow to help us?
Rafiqul Islam, local government official

Similar stories can be heard all over the south-west, where there is barely a village that has not been affected by the storm.

The village of Morichal is typical - hundreds of trees leading up to it have been uprooted, houses have been shattered, crops destroyed and telegraph poles split in half.

Several people were killed here and the locals are angry.

"We do not have enough food, our houses and shops have been wiped out and there is no-one to help us," local government official Rafiqul Islam said.

"For poor people it's especially hard. They have absolutely nothing - nothing to cook on, nowhere to sleep and hardly anything to eat. Why have the authorities been so slow to help us?"

Warning system

Similar frustrations over the perceived slow reaction of the authorities are felt by people all over this part of Bangladesh.

In its defence, the government argues that thousands of lives were saved by its cyclone warning system, which involved hundreds of volunteers travelling around rural areas to tell people to take refuge in shelters during the storm.

The authorities and aid agencies argue that it is a huge logistical exercise to provide aid to all the storm-affected areas, many of which are in remote areas of the Sunderbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world.

Army tractor moving fallen trees
The army says that it is taking action to help cyclone victims

But efforts are now under way to repair broken power cables and remove trees which are blocking roads.

We came across a team of army engineers using a huge digger to clear fallen trees near Morichal.

The commander of the soldiers, Col Entimal, denied that the authorities had been slow to react.

"Our soldiers will be deployed in the worst affected areas to distribute food, repair blocked roads and deliver medical aid," he said.

"But the scale of this storm is so bad that we have not been able to reach some of the most heavily-hit areas because all the roads were blocked. We could only access these areas by helicopter, but now we can start getting to these areas and deliver help.

"As the clear-up operation intensifies we will make sure that no community is left unhelped."

Helping the poor

But for some, it may be too late.

Villagers in the more remote communities say that they have not been able to eat since the storm struck.

Bangladesh has a good record when it comes to dealing with natural disasters - it is home to a plethora of local and foreign NGOs and aid agencies.

The question now is whether or not these organisations can between them help form a plan of action to help the poor and dispossessed.

It is they who have been hardest hit by this storm and it is they who have the most to lose if they do not receive help soon.

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