Five U.S. Blackhawk helicopters ferried food and medicine Wednesday to cyclone survivors along the southeastern coast, beginning an American relief effort involving thousands of troops.
About 7,000 U.S. military personnel, some of them Persian Gulf war veterans diverted from voyages home, were to reach Bangladesh later Wednesday in an eight-ship flotilla.More food and supplies were also to arrive from India aboard a plane carrying Mother Teresa, the 80-year-old Roman Catholic nun from nearby Calcutta who won a Nobel Peace Prize for her work with the world's poor.
It was Mother Teresa's second visit since the most powerful cyclone on record in Bangladesh thrashed the southeastern part of the country April 30, killing at least 139,000 people by official count.
A 15-truck convoy was to leave Wednesday from India with 150 tons of rice, the first consignment of 5,000 tons promised by Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar on a visit to Dhaka on Sunday.
Severe rainstorms with winds up to 55 mph were predicted for the storm-weary southeastern coast and for Dhaka, the capital. The storms could further hinder relief efforts already plagued by unrelenting bad weather, red tape, corruption and shoddy communication.
Meanwhile, flood levels continued to rise in the northeast, where rivers fed from the rain-lashed mountains of eastern India swelled over protective embankments, the Flood Control Center reported.
The English-language newspaper The Star said the flooding has killed 40 people and displaced about 3 million others.
About 30 percent of this Wisconsin-size country of 110 million has since April 30 been affected by natural disasters - 20 percent by the cyclone and 5 percent each by storms and floods.
The U.S. task force plans to help repair damaged houses, roads and bridges, purify water and supply medicine. An estimated 10 million people are threatened by disease, hunger and exposure.
"I wish I could welcome them with flowers," Mir Mohammad Nasiruddin, Chittagong's 37-year-old mayor, said Tuesday. "But you see, we lost all our nice rose and marigold flowers in the cyclone, but we will pour our heart for them."