BARGUNA, Bangladesh – Azahar Ali huddled with his family, reading from the Quran, as the cyclone roared in. First the power went out; then screaming winds blew out the windows and ripped off the roof. The sea rushed in, washing him and his family away.
The 80-year-old awoke in a rice paddy to find his son, daughter-in-law, three grandchildren and three other relatives dead, among the more than 3,100 people killed by Cyclone Sidr.
“I have lost everything,” he said Monday while recounting the terror of the worst cyclone to hit this low-lying South Asian nation of 150 million people in more than a decade.
Details of the devastation and the stories of the survivors began to emerge as rescuers reached areas cut off four days earlier when the storm washed out roads and downed telephone lines.
At least 3,113 people were known dead and more than 1,000 were missing, said Lt. Col. Main Ullah Chowdhury, an army spokesman. The Red Crescent Society, the Islamic cousin of the Red Cross, warned the death toll could rise to 10,000 once rescuers reach outlying islands.
Mike Kiernan, spokesman for the charity Save the Children, said the final toll could be between 5,000 and 10,000 deaths, but added that “we won’t know for certain for days or weeks.”
He said hundreds of thousands of people managed to escape physical harm, but many lost their homes and crops.
In the village of Parulkhel, residents and rescuers used bamboo poles to probe flooded fields, looking for submerged bodies.
When a woman’s corpse was discovered, workers rushed in with sacks and plastic sheet to lift the body 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.
Survivors picked through the village’s wreckage, looking for anything salvageable in a jumble of splintered wood, bamboo and corrugated iron houses, fallen trees and bloated animal carcasses. A stench filled the air.
In the neighboring village of Bainsamarta, Sheikh Mubarak, 40, sat among the ruins of his hut weeping for his 12-year-old daughter.
“As our house was washed away by walls of water, I grabbed my daughter and ran for shelter. The monster waves swept her away from me,” he said. “Allah should have taken me instead.”
Government and relief agencies stepped up efforts to get help to devastated areas.
Army helicopters flew in high-protein cookies supplied by the World Food Program, said Emamul Haque, a spokesman for the U.N. agency’s office in the capital, Dhaka.
International groups promised initial aid totaling $25 million during a meeting with Bangladesh agencies Monday, Haque said.