The US Navy prepared on Friday to deliver much-needed food and medical supplies to hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis whose homes were destroyed by Cyclone Sidr, a top US military commander said.
The arrival of the USS Kearsage near the Bangladesh coast came as authorities and aid workers warned that Bangladesh faces acute food
shortages after the devastating storm destroyed crops and homes across a large swath of the country.
Officers from the USS Kearsage spent most of Friday meeting with Bangladeshi military commanders to coordinate the operation, which will include a survey of the ravaged zone to pinpoint the neediest areas, US officials said.
The actual delivery of relief supplies is expected to start on Saturday, US officials said in Dhaka.
Admiral Timothy J. Keating, the top US military commander in the Pacific
Ocean, said the US had learned from past experiences, making it easier to respond to emergencies.
"We were given permission to move a significant asset from the central command to the pacific command, waters off of, well, near Iraq, to waters just south of Bangladesh, just that quickly (snaps fingers), couple of phone calls and it was done," Admiral Timothy Keating told reporters.
"Operation enduring freedom, operation Iraqi freedom, Katrina and other
military operations in my view, and I have been at this a while, have made it easier for us to provide response when requested," he added.
The first ship arrived on Thursday and Keating said a second ship, the USS Essex, would arrive in coming days, with assistance at the
request of the Bangladeshi government.
The ships are each carrying about 20 helicopters that will help deliver water, food and medical supplies to survivors, US officials said.
Meanwhile, Bangladeshis in the stricken zones were clamoring for the aid which was slowly arriving.
Since the November 15 storm hit southwestern Bangladesh, officials and relief agencies have struggled to get desperately needed rice, drinking water and tents to remote villages.
Long queues for supplies could be seen in the devastated village of
Shoronkhola, which was wiped out by the storm.
The government has pledged to feed more than two million people left
destitute by the storm, which killed about 3,200 people.
Bangladesh has received pledges of international aid of 450 million US
dollars, officials said on Thursday after a meeting with donors.
But in the short term, aid workers were struggling to get enough aid to the worst-affected coastal region, where a shortage of supplies has led to fistfights among survivors at relief centers.