The death toll from a disastrous cyclone rose Friday to nearly 100,000, relief officials said, and special prayers of mourning were said as thousands of bodies washed ashore.
The first foreign flights began arriving with aid for millions of people whose homes were destroyed in Tuesday's storm, which ravaged the southeast coast with 145 mph winds and floods.The United States, Japan and European nations quickly pledged millions of dollars in aid in response to the government's appeals for assistance, but the money was far short of the aid Bangladesh said was needed.
Officials of the Red Crescent Society relief organization said Friday their casualty figure was 99,256, making it the Bay of Bengal's second deadliest storm this century. A 1970 cyclone in the same area claimed 500,000 lives.
The officials said 55,000 of the latest deaths were in the district around the east coast port city of Chittagong and 29,000 people died in the southern district of Cox's Bazaar near the Burmese border.
Hishamuddin Ahmed, a Relief Ministry official, said the government death toll had more than doubled since Thursday, when it was set at more than 37,000. He could not give a precise figure or breakdown of the deaths in each district.
Muslims on Friday said special prayers of mourning in mosques nationwide for the storm victims, and Prime Minister Khaleda Zia declared Saturday a national day of mourning.
The storm raised 20-foot waves along the southeastern coast of Bangladesh and flooded scores of low-lying islands. Tens of thousands were missing.
Luftar Rahman Khan, the relief minister, said at least 10 million people out of the country of 110 million lived in the region hit by the storm. At least 90 percent of them lost their homes, and many sought refuge in relief camps where water and food were scarce, he said.
Bangladeshi officials were struggling to supply food, water, clothing and medicines to the millions of survivors.
On Friday, Pope John Paul II urged a "generous and effective" international relief effort for victims of the disastrous cyclone in Bangladesh.
Emergency aid promised as of Friday totaled $18.2 million, said Hashamhul Shamsul Huda, director of the Association of Development Agencies in Bangladesh. The association is an umbrella group of Bangladesh relief agencies.
A Saudi Arabian C-130 cargo plane carrying tents and blankets arrived late Thursday, and another flew in Friday.Relief operations were hampered by a shortage of helicopters and speedboats able to reach remote areas. The government has asked for 20 helicopters from the United States to reinforce Bangladesh's 12 overburdened choppers.
Zia, who took office six weeks ago, said at least $56 million was needed for immediate relief. The government's preliminary damage estimate was $1.42 billion.
Relief officials have not been able to reach at least half the 65 islands affected by the storm, the government said.
Waterborne diseases and starvation also threatened to raise the death toll by thousands. National newspapers said Friday that the toll may reach 300,000.
"Many more people are likely to die if food and water is not rushed to the affected areas," the government-owned newspaper Dainik Bangla said.
The areas hit by the cyclone was already ravaged by an epidemic of gastroenteritis that killed about 1,000 people and affected more than 80,000 in the past month.
Sandwip, an island near the port city of Chittagong with 300,000 residents, took the full force of the storm and was completely submerged under sea water.
"We have unofficial information from Sandwip that the death toll in that island alone reached 20,000," an official with the Red Crescent said.
Relief workers and journalists who visited the region said thousands of bodies of men, women and children were being brought in by the tides. Survivors searched for missing relatives among corpses washed up on beaches.
The storm also severely damaged Chittagong, the country's main harbor, and hundreds of acres of rice paddies.
Since the 1970 storm, the government has built relief facilities, erected storm shelters of stone and brick mounted on earthen platforms and built flood embankments on some islands exposed to the fury of the sea.
Bangladesh is one of the world's poorest and most crowded countries. The per capita income is about $170 a year.