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Aid Pours Into Storm-Battered Bangladesh; Official Death Toll Surpasses 3,000

Aid agencies in Bangladesh say the death toll from Cyclone Sidr is likely to rise sharply in the coming days. VOA correspondent Steve Herman reports from New Delhi that millions of Bangladeshis have seen their villages practically wiped off the map by the storm, which had winds of up to 250 kilometers an hour.

Low-lying Bangladesh is accustomed to annual floods and devastating storms, but officials there on Monday described the cyclone as the worst natural disaster in more than a decade.

The UNICEF representative in Bangladesh, Louis-George Arsenault went by plane and boat to reach Charkhali village in Patuakhali, along the Bay of Bengal, one of the worst hit areas.

"It's a bit apocalyptic because everything has been smashed. There is nothing standing. It's like a small tsunami. Everything has been wiped out," said Arsenaut. "The crops are gone, trees are gone. And people are just trying to survive and pulling things together. They have no more clothes. They have just one piece of cloth they are wearing around their waist."

The government's preliminary death toll on Monday was more than 2,400, but relief workers say the total may be far beyond that. There is still no communication with some coastal communities.

The Bangladesh military has sent ships and helicopters to reach survivors believed stranded on islands in the Bay of Bengal.

The U.S. Navy is sending two ships with helicopters to assist with the relief effort. The United States has also given two million dollars in what is described as an initial donation. European nations are pledging millions of dollars.

As he surveyed Charkhali village, Arsenault of the United Nations Children's' Fund, described the sort of aid that villagers need.

"As we move forward in coming days, essential drugs and water supply," he said. "But right now we need dry food and we need shelters very badly, even just basic clothes."

Cyclone Sidr came ashore Thursday with 250 kilometer-an-hour winds and tidal surges of five meters. It appears to be the worst storm to hit Bangladesh since 1991 when a cyclone left an estimated 143,000 people dead.