Cyclone relief slow to arrive

TAFALBARI, Bangladesh — International donors pledged hundreds of millions of dollars Wednesday to rebuild Bangladesh’s cyclone-ravaged coast, but help wasn’t coming fast enough for thousands of homeless survivors who fought over meager rice handouts.

The government said it had promises of $390 million in international aid, much of it a $250 million pledge from the World Bank. But relief officials were struggling to get desperately needed rice, drinking water and tents to people in remote villages wrecked by the storm.

In Tafalbari, a dusty collection of crushed tin huts and flooded fields, fistfights erupted in a crowd of villagers who had spent fruitless hours waiting for food outside a relief center.

Several thousand people surrounded the small aid station set up by a local humanitarian group. Workers had to shut the gates against the tide, admitting just a few people at a time.

“I didn’t have enough food before the storm hit. We have hardly eaten at all since the storm,” said one frustrated villager, Juddistir Chandar Das, 45, who lost the home he shared with his wife and three children.

In the nearby village of Purba Saralia, relief officials used clubs to fend off a crush of hungry people pleading for rice.

“I’ve been waiting since dawn. I have nothing to eat and my children are hungry,” said Kabir Howlader, 25, one of thousands who gathered at a fire station that had been converted into a relief center.

Officials at the center said the government had provided only enough rice to feed 1,200 registered residents, but there were far more than that outside the gates.

The storm, which tore along Bangladesh’s southwestern coast Nov. 15, destroyed 458,804 houses and damaged 665,529 more, affecting some 4 million, the government said.

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