U.S. Navy helicopters began delivering emergency supplies Monday to survivors of a deadly cyclone along the southern coast of Bangladesh in a joint relief operation, officials said.
Helicopters from the USS Kearsarge started airlifting 5,000 water containers to remote areas of Dublar Char, Bagherat and Barguna, the worst affected districts in the Nov. 15 cyclone that killed more than 3,200 people.
U.S. troops will also deliver food and other supplies, help set up water purification plants, and provide medical care to victims in the coming days, army officials said.
"Our first priority is get food, water and clothes to the survivors," said Gen. Moeen U. Ahmed, the chief of army staff, after meeting U.S. officials.
Aid workers' attempts to deliver critical supplies and medical services have been hampered by blocked or destroyed roads. On Saturday, a section of a bridge collapsed and fell into a river under the weight of thousands of survivors stampeding for food in southern Patuakhali district. One person died and dozens were injured.
"We will fill the requirements as identified by the Bangladesh military," said U.S. Brig. Gen. Ronald L. Bailey, who is coordinating the relief operation.
The official death toll rose to 3,243, the government said. Another 1,180 people were missing, and at least 34,500 were injured.
Pledges of assistance
Bangladesh has received pledges of international aid of more than $500 million, including $250 million from the World Bank.
The U.S. will also help airlift 160 tons of relief goods from Bangladeshi government supplies, the American Embassy said.
A U.S. military KC-130 aircraft arrived at the international airport in the capital, Dhaka, to deliver water purification systems to affected areas. A second American ship, the USNS Concord, was nearby to re-supply the Kearsarge, the embassy said.
With many wells destroyed by the cyclone, there was a critical need for clean water to prevent the spread of cholera and diarrhea.
The U.S. embassy also said an Army medical team that had been in Bangladesh on a separate mission was deployed to Pataukhali district along with medics from the Kearsarge.
The Bangladesh military was constructing more than 200 helipads in the coastal region, said Ahmed. The government will give loans and materials to rebuild homes, he added. More than 450,000 homes were damaged by the cyclone.
At least 13 Bangladesh navy ships were also involved in relief work, distributing food and clothes. India and Pakistan have also sent military planes and hospital ships.
The Asian Development Bank said natural disasters in Bangladesh this year may bring down the country's GDP growth to below 6 percent, from 6.5 percent predicted earlier.
The ADB said economic losses from floods have amounted to $1.4 billion. The bank was still assessing the losses from the latest cyclone.