Barguna - Azahar Ali was huddled with his family, reading from the Qur'an, when the cyclone roared in from the sea. First the power went out, then screaming winds blew out the windows and ripped off the roof. Then the sea rushed in, washing them away.
"I have lost everything," the 80-year-old man said on Monday recounting how he awoke in a rice paddy to find eight relatives - including his son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren - dead, among the thousands of people killed when the cyclone hit Bangladesh.
Details of the devastation and the stories of the survivors are now beginning to emerge as rescuers reached areas cut off because of washed-out roads and downed telephone lines.
|'The monster waves swept her away from me'|
On Monday, in the village of Parulkhel, residents and rescuers used bamboo poles to prod flooded fields, looking for submerged bodies. Finding a woman's corpse, others rushed in with sacks and plastic sheeting to help lift it out. Onlookers gathered, and one weeping man identified her as his mother.
"Some were identified and taken away by relatives, we buried dozens of others near where we found them," said Ali Akbar, a volunteer.
Others sifted through the remains of the village - a chaotic jumble of mud and debris from the wood, bamboo and corrugated iron homes, fallen trees and bloated animal carcasses - looking for things to salvage. A rotten stench filled the air.
In the neighbouring village of Bainsamarta, Sheikh Mubarak, 40, sat among the ruins of his hut weeping for his 12-year-old daughter.
|'Just before midnight the winds came like hundreds of demons'|
Survivors said many of the deaths could have been prevented but people failed to heed warnings to move to higher ground.
"Nothing is going to happen. That was our first thought and we went to bed," said Dhalan Mridha, a 45-year-old farm worker from the village of Galachipa.
"Just before midnight the winds came like hundreds of demons. Our small hut was swept away like a piece of paper, and we all ran for shelter," he said.
Meanwhile, the government and relief agencies stepped up efforts to get help to the devastated areas.
Army helicopters airlifted high-protein cookies supplied by the World Food Program, said Emamul Haque, a spokesperson for the WFP office in Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka, which is coordinating international relief efforts.
International aid organisations promised initial packages of $25-million (about R169-million) during a meeting with Bangladesh agencies on Monday, Haque said.
But relief items such as tents, rice and water have been slow to reach many.
In the town of Barguna long lines of anxious people formed at the market, waiting for word that help was on the way.
"We have been waiting here for several hours, but no relief," said Uthan Ching, who left clutching a still-empty plastic bag.
Government officials defended the relief efforts and expressed confidence that authorities are up to the task.
"We have enough food and water," said Shahidul Islam, the top official in Bagerhat, a battered district near the town of Barguna. "We are going to overcome the problem."
Some, though, predicted things could become even worse.
The Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, the Islamic equivalent of the Red Cross, warned the toll could hit 10 000 once rescuers reach outlying islands.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that several million dollars were available from the UN's emergency response funds, depending on the need.
Many foreign governments and international groups have also pledged to help.
The United States offered $2,1-million and two US Marine Corp. transport planes have arrived in Dhaka with medical supplies, said Chowdhury, the army spokesman
An American military medical team is already in Bangladesh and two US naval ships, each carrying at least 20 helicopters, among tons of other supplies, will be made available if the Bangladesh government requests them, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement.
Other governments and organisations that pledged aid include the German government, which offered about $730 000, the European Union with $2,2-million, and the British government with $5,1-million. France pledged about $730 000, Japan sent $318 000 in relief supplies, Italy's Roman Catholic bishops' conference said it was donating $2,9-million, while the Philippines said it would send a medical team.
Every year, storms batter Bangladesh, a country of 150 million, often killing large numbers of people. The most deadly recent storm was a tornado that levelled 80 villages in northern Bangladesh in 1996, killing 621 people. - Sapa-AP
UPDATE ON THISTLE ALPHA
Petrofac, as duty holder of the Thistle Alpha installation on behalf of Lundin Britain Limited, can confirm that following the incident this morning, 116 non essential personnel have been down manned to the nearby Murchison and Dunlin platforms.
There were originally 159 personnel on board and 43 personnel remain on the platform. All are safe and well.A fire was reported on the platform at 08.07 on November 25th in the turbine module and was confirmed extinguished at 10:00 am.
All relevant authorities have been notified. A full investigation as to the cause of the fire is underway.
The Thistle Alpha installation is located approximately 523 km (325 miles) north north east of Aberdeen and comprises a steel jacket supporting a three deck platform, accommodation and helideck.
Maria Hamilton, a spokesperson for Lundin Petroleum, said total oil production of the Thistle Alpha platform is 5,000 barrels a day. A spokesman at Petrofac also confirmed production at the platform has stopped completely.
UPDATE ON EXPLORER FROM CARGOLAW
From The Cargo Letter - Nov. 23 2007 -Tragedy Off Antarctica
ALERT>>>2400 gt passenger M/V Explorer (built 1969) ran into trouble about 0524 GMT Nov. 23, near King George Island in the Antarctic Ocean began sinking after she hit ice, near the South Shetland Islands. About 100 passengers & 54 crew members have been evacuated and are in lifeboats. Capt. the Chief Officer remained on board the vessel until everyone was evacuated. The vessel is owned by Toronto-based GAP Adventures. M/V Explorer hit a lump of ice off King George Island this morning and the impact left the vessel with a crack in the hull the size of a fist. Weather conditions were "fairly good" for this time of year, but it would be cold. Liner about to sink. The vessel had a 30 degree list. A rescue operation is being co-ordinated by the U.S. Coast Guard in Norfolk, Virginia, with the authorities in Ushuaia, Argentina. M/V Antarctic Dream, which is in the area, has been diverted to help the rescue. GAP Adventures said 23 Britons, 17 Dutch, 10 Australians, 13 Americans & 10 Canadians were among the passengers -- remaining nationalities of the rescued tourists are Irish, Danish, Swiss, Belgian, Japanese, French, German & Chinese. M/V Explorer was the 1st custom-built expedition ship -- known as the 'Little Red Ship' to aficionado, she became the first passenger vessel to navigate the North West passage in 1984 and was involved in rescue of crew from Argentine cargo vessel off Anvers Island, Antarctica, in 1989. From our Sr. Correspondent Tim Schwabedissen and our Correspondent A. Griffiths (Fri. Nov. 23 2007 am)