Death Toll Could Reach 10,000 in Bangladesh Cyclone

Ten thousand people are feared dead after a powerful cyclone tore through Bangladesh Thursday with winds described as "hundreds of demons," according to the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, the Islamic equivalent of the Red Cross.

The official death toll was placed at 3,113 on Monday, according to the Disaster Management Ministry. Another 800,000 were left homeless.

Dhalan Mridha and his family had ignored the high cyclone alert issued by authorities until just before midnight in the fishing village of Galachipa.

"Our small hut was swept away like a piece of paper, and we all ran for shelter," said Mridha, a 45-year-old farm worker, weeping.

Click here to view photos.

On the way to a shelter, Mridha was separated from his wife, mother and two children. The next morning he found their bodies stuck in a battered bush.

The coast abounded with such grim tales Monday following Tropical Cyclone Sidr, the worst cyclone to hit Bangladesh in a decade. Many grieving families buried their loved ones in the same grave because no male member was available to dig them.

The society's chairman, Mohammad Abdur Rob, said the estimate came from the assessments of thousands of volunteers involved in rescue operations across the battered region.

The country's interim leader Fakhruddin Ahmed toured some of the worst-hit areas Monday, handing out food to survivors and promising, "We will help you as best as we can."

Helicopters airlifted food to hungry survivors while rescuers struggled to reach remote areas. The army helicopters carried mostly high-protein cookies supplied by the World Food Program, said Emamul Haque, a spokesman for the WFP office in Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka, which is coordinating international relief efforts.

International aid organizations promised initial packages of $25 million during a meeting with Bangladesh agencies Monday, Haque said.

But relief items such as tents, rice and water have been slow to reach many. 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."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that several million dollars were available from the U.N.'s emergency response funds, depending on the need.

He expressed his "profound condolences to the people and government of Bangladesh for the many deaths and the destruction involved, and the full solidarity of the U.N. system at this time of crisis," the statement said.

The government said it has allocated $5.2 million in emergency aid for rebuilding houses. Many foreign governments and international groups have also pledged to help.

The United States offered $2.1 million.

An American military medical team is already in Bangladesh and two U.S. 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 organizations 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 million. France pledged some $730,000, 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 leveled 80 villages in northern Bangladesh in 1996, killing 621 people.

Only two people were killed in Bangladesh by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was spawned off Indonesia's Sumatra island by a magnitude-9 earthquake, hitting a dozen countries and killing at least 216,858, according to government and aid agency figures considered the most reliable in each country.

Hurricane Katrina, the most destructive natural disaster in U.S. history, killed 1,600 people across the Gulf Coast, destroyed or severely damaged more than 200,000 homes and made more than 800,000 people homeless overnight.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.