Bangladesh death reaches 2,300
Grieving survivors and rescuers picked through the rubble left in the wake of a cyclone that battered Bangladesh as the death toll reached over 2,300 today and a government official declared the disaster "a national calamity".
Mohammad Abdur Rob, chairman of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, said the overall death toll from the cyclone could reach 10,000.
"Based on our experience in the past and reports from the scene I would guess the death toll may be as high as 10,000," he said.
Officials also expected the death toll to rise as the search for hundreds of people missing after Thursday's storm intensified.
Military ships and helicopters were trying to reach thousands of people believed stranded on islands in the Bay of Bengal and in coastal areas still cut off by the devastating storm.
The disaster ministry had recorded 2,300 deaths by 3pm today, but local media put the figure at more than 3,500. A much improved disaster preparedness plan has been credited with saving scores of lives.
Officials in affected areas say the death toll given by the ministry is far below the real numbers.
"Some 2,000 people have died in my area alone," said Anwar Panchayet in Bagerhat district.
Pope Benedict called today for international aid for Bangladesh. "In renewing my deep condolences to the families and the entire nation, which is very dear to me, I appeal to international solidarity," the Pope said. "I encourage all possible efforts to help these brothers who are suffering so much."
A huge effort was underway to get food, drinking water and shelter to tens of thousands affected by the storm, the worst to hit disaster-prone Bangladesh since 1991 when nearly 143,000 people died.
Cyclone Sidr smashed into the country's southern coastline late on Thursday with 250 kph (155 mph) winds that whipped up a five metre (16 feet) tidal surge.
Most of the deaths came from the surge washing away homes and strong winds blowing down dwellings. Many others drowned or were lost at sea.