Bangladesh cyclone said to kill 1,100(video)

( AP ) - Aid workers struggled Friday to help hundreds of thousands of survivors of a cyclone that blasted Bangladesh with 150 mph winds, killing a reported 1,100 people, savaging coastal towns, and leaving millions without power in the deadliest such storm in more than a decade.

Rescuers - some even employing the brute force of elephants - contended with roads that were washed out or blocked by wind-blown debris to try to get water and food to people stranded by flooding from Tropical Cyclone Sidr.

The damage to livelihood, housing and crops from Sidr will be "extremely severe," said John Holmes, the U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, adding that the world body was making millions of dollars in aid available to Bangladesh.

The winds wreaked havoc on the country's electricity and telephone lines, affecting even areas that were spared a direct hit, and leaving the full picture of the death and destruction unclear.

By late Friday, about 24 hours after the cyclone roared ashore, officials were still struggling to get reports from many of the worst-hit districts.

Dhaka, the capital city of this poor, desperately crowded nation of 150 million people, remained without power. Winds uprooted trees and sent billboards flying through the air, said Ashraful Zaman, an official at the main emergency control room.

The government's most recent announcement put the death toll at 242, but officials in the Dhaka control room had little up-to-date information. Dalil Uddin of the Ministry of Disaster Management said the official toll would go much higher.

The United News of Bangladesh news agency, which has reporters deployed across the devastated region, said the count from each affected district left an overall death toll of at least 1,100.

Holmes said his U.N. agency believes that more than 20,000 houses have been damaged in the hardest-hit districts, and that the death toll is expected to climb beyond the government's figures.

About 150 fishing trawlers were unaccounted for, he said.

Hasanul Amin, assistant director of the cyclone preparedness program sponsored by the government and the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, said about a dozen teams had been deployed to the worst-hit areas in the country's southwest.

But it was slow going. In the village of Sharankhola, some people waited for hours to get dry biscuits and rice, according to Bishnu Prasad, a United News of Bangladesh reporter on the scene.

"We have lost everything," a farmer, Moshararf Hossain, told Prasad. "We have nowhere to go."

The cyclone swept in from the Bay of Bengal and roared across the southwestern coast late Thursday with driving rain and high waves, leveling thousands of flimsy huts and destroying crops and fish farms in 15 coastal districts, officials and witnesses said.

Sidr spawned a 4-foot-high storm surge that swept through low-lying areas and some offshore islands, leaving them under water, said Nahid Sultana, an official of the Ministry of Food and Disaster Management.

At least 650,000 coastal villagers had fled to shelters where they were given emergency rations, said senior government official Ali Imam Majumder in Dhaka.

Volunteers from international aid agencies, including the U.N. World Food Program, Save the Children and the U.S.-based Christian aid group World Vision, have joined the relief effort.

World Vision is putting together seven-day relief packages for families that will include rice, oil, sugar, salt, candles and blankets, according to Vince Edwards, the agency's Bangladesh director.

The World Food Program was sending rations for up to 400,000, Holmes added.

Edwards said debris from the storm has blocked roads and rivers, making it difficult to reach all the areas that had been hit.

"There has been lot of damage to houses made of mud and bamboo, and about 60 to 80 percent of the trees have been uprooted," Edwards said.

An elephant was pressed into service to help clear a road in Barishal, 75 miles south of Dhaka, pushing a stranded bus and moving a toppled tree.

By Friday night, work had resumed at the country's two main seaports - Chittagong and Mongla - as well at Chittagong and Dhaka airports, authorities said.

The storm spared India's eastern coast. Weather officials had forecast only heavy rain and flooding in West Bengal and Orissa states.

Bangladesh is prone to seasonal cyclones and floods that cause huge losses of life and property. In 1970, between 300,000 and 500,000 people were killed by a cyclone, and some 140,000 died in 1991. Dozens of other cyclones have taken more than 60,000 lives since 1960.

The most recent deadly storm was a tornado that leveled 80 villages in northern Bangladesh in 1996, killing 621 people.

After the 1991 cyclone, foreign donors and Bangladeshi government agencies began building emergency shelters - concrete boxes raised on pillars, each able to hold anywhere from a few hundred to 3,000 people.

More than 2,000 shelters have since been built.

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