DHAKA, BANGLADESH — Military ships and helicopters joined in rescue and relief operations today to help hundreds of thousands of survivors of a cyclone that blasted Bangladesh, savaging coastal towns and leaving millions without power.
Estimates of Tropical Cyclone Sidr's death toll varied widely.
The United News of Bangladesh news agency, which has reporters deployed across the devastated region, said the count from each affected district left an overall death toll of at least 1,100.
The government had said about 250 people were killed but this morning updated that to more than 630.
"The toll is going up quickly," a Ministry of Disaster Management official said.
Late Friday, about 24 hours after the cyclone roared ashore, officials were still struggling to get reports from many of the worst-hit districts.
Rescuers, some employing the brute force of elephants, contended with roads that were washed out or blocked by wind-blown debris to try to get water and food to people stranded by floods caused by the storm.
The damage to livelihoods, housing and crops from Sidr will be "extremely severe," said John Holmes, the United Nations undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs. He said that the world body was making millions of dollars in aid available to Bangladesh.
The 150 mph winds wreaked havoc on electricity and telephone lines, affecting even areas that were spared a direct hit, and leaving the full picture of the death and destruction unclear.
Dhaka, the capital of this nation of 150 million people, remained without power. Winds uprooted trees and sent billboards flying.
Holmes said his agency estimates that more than 20,000 houses have been damaged in the hardest-hit districts, and that the death toll was expected to climb beyond the government's figures.
About 150 fishing trawlers were unaccounted for, he said.
Hasanul Amin, assistant director of the cyclone preparedness program sponsored by the government and the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, said about a dozen teams had been deployed to the country's southwest.
Sidr caused a 4-foot-high storm surge that swept through low-lying areas and some offshore islands, leaving them under water, said Nahid Sultana, an official with the Ministry of Food and Disaster Management.
At least 650,000 coastal villagers had fled to shelters where they were given emergency rations, said government official Ali Imam Majumder in Dhaka.
Bangladesh is frequently hit by cyclones, which are the same as hurricanes, and floods.