From: Reuters
Published November 23, 2007 12:17 PM

U.S. Navy vessel arrives in Bangladesh for relief efforts

By Anis Ahmed

DHAKA (Reuters) - A U.S. Navy vessel arrived in Bangladesh on Friday to help relief efforts after the country's deadliest cyclone in 16 years killed around 3,500 people and left thousands missing or injured.

At least 2 million people have been displaced, officials and aid workers say.

Military officials said the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge was anchored off Chittagong port and another U.S. ship, the USS Essex, was due to arrive on Saturday.

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Each ship carries about 20 helicopters, which will help in delivering water, food and medical supplies to survivors in remote areas in the battered south and southwestern regions, the officials said.

"The USS Kearsarge has already entered Bangladesh's territorial waters...It can start work any day," Army Chief General Moeen U. Ahmed told reporters after meeting the head of the US Pacific Command, Admiral Timothy J. Keating, in Dhaka on Friday.

Cyclone Sidr slammed in Bangladesh last week with winds of 250 kph (155 mph), swamping the low-lying coast with a 5-metre (17 ft) storm surge that travel far inland and up coastal rivers.

Preliminary estimates by officials and economists said the cyclone damaged crops and property worth about $1 billion. The government said so far it received aid pledges of $200 million.

"Quick intervention to improve food availability and self-reliance in cyclone-devastated districts will reduce the need for protracted, and more costly, life-saving assistance," said Anne M. Bauer, Director, FAO Emergency Operations and Rehabilitation Division.

She pointed to the need to quickly restore farm and fisheries production. The FAO has received $3 million for immediate assistance to cyclone-affected farmers and fishermen.

Moeen said food, drinking water, warm clothes and milk powder were essential for the survivors, many thousands of whom are homeless and living out in the open. Many are suffering from the cold weather as winter approaches.

The American vessels and two U.S. C-130 transport planes will carry out relief operations in coordination with the Bangladesh authorities, officials said.

This is the second US Navy relief operation after 1991 when another cyclone killed around 143,000 people along the coast.

TOO EARLY TO LINK SIDR TO GLOBAL WARMING

"It is not possible, at this stage, to categorically claim that cyclone Sidr was the result of global warming. However, there is sufficiently sound evidence that global warming has indeed started, and one of its impacts is the increase in the intensity of tropical cyclones, including Sidr," said K.B. Sajjadur Rasheed, a noted environment specialist.

The UN's International Panel on Climate Change 2007 report says there is no clear evidence cyclones would become more frequent because of global warming. But it says increased sea surface temperatures meant storms were likely to become more intense.

"From that point of view, we might say that the influence of global warming is manifested in the large areal spread of Sidr (almost the size of Bangladesh)," Rasheed, a former professor of geography and environment, told Reuters. He also pointed to the rapid intensification of the storm as it approached the coast.

On Friday, thousands of people were seen lining up along highways in coastal areas waiting for relief trucks to come by, said Reuters cameraman Rafiqur Rahman in Swarankhola, an area badly damaged by the storm.

Many survivors told of the horror of the cyclone's fury.

"I climbed on a huge banyan tree with some 150 other people," said Aklima Khatun, a 14-year-old girl in Nilganj village in Patuakhali district.

"I almost lost my breath to see everything on the ground being pulled off and blown away. It was as if hundreds of elephants were trampling my village."

(Additional reporting by Ruma Paul and Azad Majumdar)

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