DHAKA, Bangladesh A cyclone that slammed into the coast with 150 mph winds killed at least 1,100 people, isolating remote towns and villages swamped by a storm surge or hemmed in by piles of debris, aid workers and a Bangladeshi news agency said Friday.
Tropical Cyclone Sidr roared across the country's southwestern coast late Thursday with driving rain and high waves, leveling thousands of flimsy huts and forcing the evacuation of 650,000 villagers, officials said.
The United News of Bangladesh news agency said reporters deployed across the devastated region made their own count in each affected district and reached a toll of 1,100.
The government, which earlier put the death toll at 242, has acknowledged its trouble keeping count with power and phone lines down in most remote areas and said it expected the official number to rise significantly.
The cyclone destroyed homes, crops and fish farms in 15 coastal districts, local government officials and witnesses said. Relief workers struggled to ferry food and medicine Friday to hundreds of thousands of survivors, officials and aid workers said.
Hasanul Amin, assistant director of the cyclone preparedness program sponsored by the government and the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, said that about a dozen teams have been deployed to conduct relief operations in the worst-hit areas in the country's southwest.
Aid workers struggled through washed-out roads and areas blocked by debris to deliver relief material to people stranded by the floodwaters. In Bagerhat, one of the hardest hit districts near the Bay of Bengal, some villagers waited for hours to get some dry biscuits and rice, United News reported.
"We have lost everything," Moshararf Hossain, local farmer, told a UNB reporter. "We have nowhere to go."
Another farmer, Alam, said he lost two brothers to the cyclone.
"Nothing can compensate for my loss, but still I need support from the government," said Alam.
Downpours and staggering winds spawned a water surge four feet high 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.
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.
The WFP has begun distributing high-energy biscuits in devastated villages and in shelters, the agency said in a statement. Save the Children said their volunteers were helping to evacuate people across the battered region.
World Vision is putting together seven-day packages for families that will include rice, oil, sugar, salt, candles and blankets, according to Vince Edwards, the agency's Bangladesh director.
But 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.
Power and communications in the capital, Dhaka, also remained down late Friday. Strong winds uprooted trees, snapped power and telecommunication lines and sent billboards flying through the air, injuring several people, said Ashraful Zaman, another official at the cyclone control room.
At least 650,000 coastal villagers moved Thursday to cyclone shelters where they were given emergency rations, Ali Imam Majumder, a senior government official, told reporters in Dhaka.
However by late evening Friday operations had resumed at the country's two main seaports Chittagong and Mongla, as well Chittagong and Dhaka airports, authorities said.
Bangladesh, a low-lying delta nation, is prone to seasonal cyclones and floods that cause huge losses of life and property. The coastal area borders eastern India and is famous for the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans, a world heritage site that is home to rare Royal Bengal Tigers.