Bangladesh Cyclone Causes 2200 Deaths But Toll Could Reach 10,000

The cyclone that slammed into Bangladesh has proven to be a brutal killer — snuffing out some 2,200 lives so far. And experts believe it could wind up claiming 10,000 when all of the bodies are found and counted.

Meanwhile, it has left millions homeless. And rescue efforts are difficult:

The government deployed military helicopters, naval ships and thousands of troops to join international agencies and local officials in the rescue mission following Tropical Cyclone Sidr. The U.S. and other countries also offered assistance.

At least 2,206 people have died since the storm struck Bangladesh on Thursday, said Selina Shahid of the Ministry of Food and Disaster Management. The toll could rise still higher as more information comes in from battered regions.

Disaster Management Secretary Aiyub Bhuiyan met Sunday with representatives from the United Nations and international aid groups to discuss the massive relief effort.

“The donors wanted to know about our plan and how they can come forward to stand by the victims,” Bhuiyan told reporters. “We have briefed them about what we need immediately.”

Rescuers struggled to clear roads and get their vehicles through, but many found the way impassable. “We will try again … on bicycles, and hire local country boats,” M. Shakil Anwar of CARE said from the city of Khulna.

At least 1.5 million coastal villagers had fled to shelters where they were given emergency rations, said senior government official Ali Imam Majumder in the capital, Dhaka.

Bangladesh has long been cursed by cyclones. The infamous 1970 Bhola cyclone took some 500,000 lives. Part of it is due to the topography of the region: the Bay of Bengal’s northern region is funnel-shaped and, when Mother Nature hits, coast residents are brutally impacted. There’s a long history (and list) of cyclones that have battered the region of Bangladesh, a country that was once part of Pakistan (which was once part of India).

And cyclones have played a key part in the nation’s and region’s political history. Outrage over how the central government in Islamabad in what was then East Pakistan responded to the Bhola cyclone — it was accused of among other things dragging its feet in facilitating international relief efforts — led to a political cyclone that eventually split Pakistan into two parts with the Bengalis governing themselves in Bangladesh.

In this case, the international community has already extended relief efforts to Bangladesh. And the disaster scene is grim, the BBC reports:

Local newspapers are showing pictures of rows of bodies lined up on the sand. There are fears the death toll will rise as rescuers reach isolated areas.

… “Village after village has been shattered,” said Harisprasad Pal, a local official in hard-hit Jhalokati district.

“I have never seen such a catastrophe in my 20 years as a government administrator,” he said.

Survivors described whole houses being picked up and blown away as the storm rushed through southern Bangladesh.

“I have never seen such a terrible scene. It was like hell,” said Manik Roy, a businessman in Jhalokati.

“I saw dozens of tin roofs flying into the air. Whole houses too.”

Meanwhile, the cyclone has caused another problem to ensure that relief efforts from this natural disaster will be critical: it decimated the food crop, the BBC reports:

Officials say that in many areas 95% of rice which was awaiting harvest has been destroyed, and shrimp farms and other crops simply washed away.

Cyclone Sidr comes just a few months after floods devastated the north of the country.

News reports indicate frantic emergency efforts involving the use of troops, helicopters — even elephants to clear debris away.

And, in this age of the Internet, some key information is coming out via weblogs. In Bangladesh, a lot of info is coming out via the blog The 3rd World View (on our blogroll here under OTHER VOICES).

Some key posts to read:

–A post that notes that local relief officials believe the toll can go MUCH higher …such as to 10,000…by the time it’s over.

–A list of efforts going on now to help cyclone victims (many of them extremely poor) and what YOU can do to help.

More details of how it disrupted Bangladeshi life, including how it interrupted the nation’s power grid, telephones, cellphones and emergency efforts to deal with the calamity.

–An eloquent post that puts it into perspective.

A taste:

Considering the force of the cyclone which is bigger than Katrina in USA (2004) and the 1991 cyclone in Bangladesh I would say that the casualties are much much lower. These days Bangladesh has learnt the lessons. Now it has more sophisticated early warning systems and cyclone shelters to save hundreds of thousands of people.

I still remember the TIME article “cyclone of Death” published just after the 1991 cyclone (left more than 140,000 dead) which quoted from Rabindranath Tagore’s Sea of waves:

In the twinkling of an eye it ended! None could see

When life was, and when life finished!

It also has an excellent roundup of Bangladesh blog reactions. If necessary, they have been translated into English. Here are a few of those with the links to the original posts (which may not be in English):

Toufiq:

Electricity just went. Its raining heavily outside. Gusty winds are also present. I am awake for unknown danger. Does anybody know cyclone when the cyclone will be past Chittagong or is it really in Chittagong?

The Uncultured Project:

It felt like something out of a movie. I was in a car on the way home – it was fifteen minutes to midnight. There wasn’t a soul on the street and the only sounds you could hear were the rain beating down on the streets, the noise of the wind, and the car’s engine. It was pitch black too – every home, apartment, and building as far as the eye could see had no electricity. Then – all of a sudden – a blinding bright light and a roar erupts right next to the car – just outside of my side of the car. My window then gets showered in glowing sparks.

I wasn’t in any danger – it was just a transformer exploding. But, for the first time in this whole time in Bangladesh – I was scared…

I’m writing this on my battery’s laptop power. The glow of the screen is the only thing that is lighting up this room. Now, this isn’t the first time there’s been a blackout – but this time it’s different. This isn’t the first time its rained – but this it’s different. It’s different because, this time it’s caused by Cyclone Sidr.

Also be sure to read 3rd World View’s post that went up as soon as it hit for an example of how a weblog can provide vital information and links in a time of crisis.