Bangladesh (MNN) — More than 125 Gospel For Asia Compassion Services missionaries and volunteers are on the scene in Bangladesh, reaching out to people affected by Cyclone Sidr, which hit November 15. They are distributing food, blankets and other emergency supplies to those affected by the storm.
So far, the teams have identified more than 84 affected families from GFA-related churches in one district. At least 50 of the believers are hospitalized with injuries. Four GFA-related churches were also damaged or destroyed by the storm, and verbal reports from other areas cite another 100 believers' homes destroyed.
The category 4 storm, called a cyclone in the Indian Ocean and a hurricane in the Atlantic, is the strongest to hit Bangladesh since 1991. It tore across the southern coastal area of this tiny country, packing winds of more than 150 miles per hour (241 km/h) and massive storm surges exceeding 16 feet (5 meters).
The cyclone is the second devastating natural disaster to hit Bangladesh this year. Monsoon rains flooded the country in August, killing hundreds and destroying thousands of homes. According to news reports, the official death toll from Cyclone Sidr has already topped 3,000. International relief organizations estimate that the death toll could rise to 10,000 as more bodies are uncovered.
"These are poor, simple people who live in homes they make themselves out of mud and wood," said GFA President K.P. Yohannan. "There is no way those homes could withstand the strength of this storm. Now they are eating grass to survive and crying out for milk for their babies, so we are doing everything we can to help them."
Many of the people who fled inland to escape the storm are now attempting to return to their homes. But the process will be slow and arduous, because many of the areas are remote, and the primitive roads in and out of the area are clogged with debris. Because the country has little modern road-clearing equipment, elephants and manual labor are being called into service for the massive clean-up.
The cyclone also wiped out an estimated 95 percent of the rice crop in the affected areas. Rice is the main source of food for the country's 130 million-plus people.
International news agencies are reporting that at least 500,000 homes were destroyed, and 845,000 total households were affected by the storm.