At least 630 people have died in Bangladesh as a result of severe Cyclone Sidr, official report says.
Disaster-management office spokesperson Muhammad Mia confirmed the number of bodies so far recovered. The cyclone roared ashore with winds of more than 250km/h, and the death toll was expected to rise further, with about 1 000 fishermen reported as missing.
The cyclone left thousands injured or missing, triggering an international relief effort on Friday to help the army-backed interim government cope with the disaster.
The cyclone triggered a 5m-high tidal surge that devastated three coastal towns and forced the evacuation of nearly one million people, officials said on Friday.
"The death count is rising fast as we get more information from the affected districts," an official at the Food and Disaster Ministry said.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) told reporters in Geneva that 1 000 fishermen were missing.
"Significant damage is expected. However, information collection on casualty and damage figures is still very much in the early stages," Ocha spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs said.
Fakhruddin Ahmed, chief of Bangladesh’s army-backed interim government, flew to some devastated districts on the coasts of the Bay of Bengal on Friday to see the extent of damage to lives and property, officials said.
Sidr, which followed devastating floods from July to September that killed more than 1 000 people, posed a new challenge to the interim administration, mainly tasked to hold a free and fair election before the end of next year.
The cycle triggered a tidal surge that inundated the towns of Patuakhali, Barguna and Jhalakathi, cutting off communication links. A government official in Dhaka said there was no immediate information about casualties from the area.
Nearly a million people were evacuated in 13 coastal districts, officials said.
By early on Friday the cyclone had weakened to a tropical storm and moved well inland north-east of Dhaka.
The Bangladesh navy has launched a search-and-rescue operation, while helicopters began ferrying relief supplies to offshore islands, the Defence Ministry said.
Most of the deaths were caused by collapsing houses and flying debris. Three people were electrocuted in the capital, Dhaka.
Agriculture officials said rice and other crops in the cyclone-battered areas were badly damaged, and caused added suffering to villagers who had earlier lost two crops in the floods. "Life shall never be easy," said Mohammad Salam, a farmer in Khulna. "We are destined to suffer."
Storms batter the poor South Asian country every year. A severe cyclone killed more than half-a-million people in 1970, while another in 1991 killed 143 000.
Hundreds of fishing boats caught in the cyclone failed to return to shore, while trees and power poles were uprooted, disrupting communication and electricity supplies.
"We have been virtually blacked out all over the country," said a disaster-management official in southern Mongla, another of the worst-affected areas.
Television news reports said more than 100 fishing boats in the Bay of Bengal had failed to return to shore despite repeated storm warnings given over the radio. Many boats, however, may have been small vessels without such equipment.
The storm blew past India’s eastern coast without causing much damage, police and weather officials there said on Friday. — Reuters, Sapa-AP