( AFP ) - Days after cyclone Sidr killed thousands in Bangladesh, relief workers struggled to deliver aid to millions of hungry victims as the country's leader said the devastation was unimaginable.
Small amounts of aid were getting through to most places but villagers -- many of whom have lost everything -- said much more was still needed.
Millions have been without sufficient food, water, or shelter since Thursday night when cyclone Sidr ripped through southern and central districts causing massive destruction.
In some areas a six-metre (20-foot) tidal wave swept away everything in its path leaving whole villages completely obliterated and killing over 3,400 people.
In a televised address late Tuesday, the leader of the country's military-backed government Fakhruddin Ahmed described the cyclone as a "national crisis" that had affected four million people.
"The destruction of houses, roads, trees and crops by the hurricane is unimaginable," said Ahmed in a televised address.
Around 3,000 army soldiers, two cargo planes, 12 helicopters, and 10 ships were working to distribute aid to victims, he added.
Head of the army General Moeen U Ahmed, during a visit to some of the worst affected areas, tried to reassure villagers that aid was on its way.
"Not a single man shall die without food as the government has sufficient stock of foodstuffs," General Moeen told victims.
He pledged to set up a "floating hospital" to provide urgent medical treatment including surgery.
Hundreds of fallen trees had earlier blocked roads preventing from getting through.
Bangladeshis are famed for their ability to withstand natural disasters such as cyclones and floods that often hit the low-lying country.
But aid agencies said the sheer scale of the destruction meant a huge relief and reconstruction effort would be needed.
"Seeing this devastation goes beyond all imagination," said Louis-Georges Arsenault, the Bangladesh country representative of the United Nations Children's Fund.
"Food, shelter and cash assistance should reach these places immediately... children and families here are in acute need of food and shelter," he said.
The confirmed death toll stood at 3,447 but officials stressed that many people were missing and that the number was expected to rise.
It was feared the final toll could be between 5,000 and 10,000, the head of the Bangladeshi Red Crescent has said.
UNICEF estimated that nearly half of those affected by the disaster were children, an estimated 400,000 of them under the age of five.
"The scale of this disaster is enormous," said Heather Blackwell, the Bangladesh head of the British aid group Oxfam.
"People here are resilient. However, the scale is such that it will take months for people to be able to return to their normal lives," she said, adding it "could take weeks before we know exactly how bad this cyclone was."
World Food Programme representative Douglas Casson Coutts said damage to infrastructure -- villages flattened, fishing boats smashed and crops and livestock washed away -- would make it difficult for people to pick up their lives.
"There is significant damage to the infrastructure. There will definitely have to be longer term assistance to get people on their feet again," he said.
Coutts said that access to remote areas was improving daily and he expected everyone in need would be reached this week.
Bangladesh has received offers of international aid totalling 140 million dollars, and the World Bank said it would additionally provide up to 250 million dollars.
The acting director of US Foreign Assistance Henrietta H. Fore arrived in Dhaka Tuesday after the United States pledged 2.1 million dollars in aid.
Two US navy ships carrying 3,500 marines and more than 30 helicopters were expected to arrive in the affected area within days to assist with transporting relief.