Bridge collapse kills storm survivors in Bangladesh
By Nizam Ahmed
DHAKA (Reuters) - At least three people were killed and nearly 100 injured in Bangladesh on Saturday when a road bridge packed with hundreds of cyclone survivors waiting for food aid collapsed into a river, police and witnesses said.
A further 20 people were missing.
The bridge in Kalapara village in Patuakhali district gave way beneath the crowd of people who were hoping for the arrival of vehicles with food and other relief after the country's deadliest cyclone in 16 years.
Cyclone Sidr killed about 3,500 people and left thousands missing or injured. Some 2 million were displaced.
Witnesses said thousands of hungry survivors were thronging river banks and road sides in cyclone-torn coastal areas.
At least 10 people were hurt when police baton-charged a group of angry survivors at a Patuakhali village, police said.
Many came from remote areas hoping for food handouts from the government and non-governmental organizations.
"We have walked for several kilometers to reach this river bank to get some food because relief operators just distribute to the people on the banks and roadside," said Marzina Begum, who lost her son and husband in the storm. "They don't think there are many survivors in the interior parts."
Bangladesh's airforce continued relief sorties with its fleet of 13 helicopters and planes. "With such a small fleet of aircraft it is not possible to give adequate relief to thousands of survivors," a relief official said.
The amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge is in Bangladeshi waters to assist the authorities and another U.S. ship, USS Essex, was due to arrive soon, a U.S. statement said.
Bangladesh defence officials flew to USS Kearsarge on Saturday. "It has all the capabilities which we need ... to save millions of survivors," a senior Bangladesh army official said.
Each ship carries about 20 helicopters, which will help in delivering water, food and medical supplies to remote areas in the south and southwestern regions, officials said.
A pair of Marine helicopters on Saturday left from USS Kearsarge with bottled water, marking the first delivery of U.S. military aid.
The 750 gallon shipment of water was delivered to a relief-supply distribution hub in Barisal, a city in southern Bangladesh, a U.S. embassy statement said.
Six C-130 aircraft from Pakistan's Air Force carrying several mobile hospital units and 89 doctors including paramedics have arrived in Bangladesh over the last three days.
The latest two aircraft reached the coastal city of Barisal on Saturday.
The United Nations increased its emergency fund allocation to $14.7 million to pay for international relief assistance.
This brings the total U.N. response to about $35 million. The figure will continue to rise over the next few weeks, a U.N. statement said.
Including the U.N. allocation, the government has so far received aid pledges of some $200 million, disaster management ministry officials said.
(Additional reporting by Serajul Islam Quadir and Masud Karim, Rafiqur Rahman in Swarankhola; editing by Elizabeth Piper)