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Fears rise cyclone death toll could soar

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Red Crescent Society official says deaths could rise to 5,000-10,000
  • NEW: Bangladeshi president distributes aid; angry survivors go empty-handed
  • Estimated 2,000 killed, 15,000 injured following last week's Category 4 cyclone
  • Thousands remain missing; estimated 280,000 homeless
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PATUAKHALI, Bangladesh (CNN) -- Bangladesh's death toll from Cyclone Sidr has reached an estimated 2,000 people, officials said Sunday, amid fears that it could skyrocket to five times that number.

The chairman of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society said he is concerned the deaths blamed on Thursday's Category 4 cyclone could reach between 5,000 and 10,000.

Thousands are missing, while an estimated 280,000 others are unable to return to their homes that the storm wiped away in the impoverished South Asian nation.

Bangladeshi President Iajuddin Ahmed helped distribute aid to survivors Sunday, but hundreds went empty-handed as security officials struggled to hold back the angry crowd.

The storm raked Bangladesh's southwest coast with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph (240 kph). Most houses in the region -- made of flimsy materials such as bamboo and corrugated iron -- stood little chance of withstanding the the powerful winds. Video Watch devastation after storm destroys bridge and village »

Along a broken road that leads into Kolapara, the body of an 8-year-old girl called Rummie was carefully carried away for burial.

A relative helped to steady the girl's mother, Khadija, who was overwhelmed with sadness.

"I am feeling too much pain in my heart," she said. "I have lost my daughter, so I am a victim of the cyclone as well." Photo See dramatic photos of storm survivors »

The storm-damaged area is crisscrossed by a huge river delta that surged as Sidr pushed through, wiping out villages and littering the river's shores with debris.

The low-lying country already is prone to flooding that has wiped out the rice crop -- a major food staple. See map of Bangladesh »

Improved warning systems and shelters have kept deaths far below levels of the disastrous cyclones of 1970 and 1991, when the tolls numbered in the hundreds of thousands.

The international community is rallying to make sure Bangladesh does not suffer as acutely as it has in the past. Nearly 1 million people died after massive floods wiped out the country's rice harvest in 1974.

As an initial contribution, the United States has offered more than $2 million for emergency relief and sent two U.S. Navy carriers to help in recovery operations.

In addition, the U.S. Agency for International Development is airlifting in relief supplies, and an 18-person Defense Department medical team is in Bangladesh helping the estimated 15,000 injured by the storm.

Bangladesh's government held an emergency Cabinet meeting Saturday to assess the disaster, Bangladeshi government spokesman Fahim Munaim said.

Officials said they fear the scope of destruction may be much more extensive since conditions can't be determined yet in many remote areas.

Munaim said the cyclone affected nearly a third of Bangladesh's 64 districts, most of those along the southern coast. The Bangladeshi military is working to provide shelter for those who have been displaced.

International aid groups -- including Save the Children, World Vision and the Red Crescent -- are deploying resources to the cyclone-stricken region, but -- like the Bangladeshi government -- they have found it nearly impossible to reach the more remote areas.

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Roads are either blocked by massive trees downed by the storm or so severely damaged that they're impassable.

Without chain saws or other modern machinery, clearing of the roads must be done by hand and could take weeks. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Dan Rivers contributed to this report.

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