Clashes as cyclone relief efforts swamped

OVERBURDENED relief centres scrambled to help tens of thousands of cyclone survivors yesterday as fist fights broke out amongvictims waiting for rice.

Nearly 2,000 people descended on a government-run relief camp in Purba Saralia, hurriedly set up in a firehouse, where officials only had food for 1,200.

“This is a crisis. I don’t have enough food and we have no work,” said Lal Mia, a farmer waiting in line.

A few miles away in the village of Basal Bar fist fights broke out among cyclone survivors as thousands of people who had gathered before dawn at a food distribution centre set up by a local aid group.

The official death toll stood at 3,167 yesterday, said Lt. Col. Main Ullah Chowdhury, spokesman for the army, which is co-ordinating the relief and rescue work. Another 1,724 people were missing, the Disaster Management Ministry said.

The coastal area battered by Cyclone Sidr, meanwhile, has been struck with waterborne diseases. Two children died of diarrhoea in the hard-hit district of Patuakhali.

The Health Ministry said it has opened a special desk to monitor any diarrhoea outbreaks. It could not immediately confirm the two reported deaths.

“We are concerned about diarrhoea,” said Renata Dessallien, the top UN official in Bangladesh. “There is no question this will be a problem.”

She said water usually gets contaminated by diarrhoea-causing bacteria following floods and cyclones.

“But I understand that the health ministry has stock of medicines and the most important thing now is to get the supplies down to the affected areas,” she said.

The Disaster Management Ministry said 28,188 people had been injured by the storm. The cyclone also destroyed 458,804 houses, and another 665,529 houses have been partially damaged, the ministry said.

Food, fresh water and temporary shelter still had not reached many of the exhausted survivors six days after the cyclone slammed into the low-lying country.

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