Bridge Collapse Deepens Bangladesh Agony

Across southern Bangladesh, hundreds of thousands of people are famished and fearful. The villagers who have lost their homes and have no food and no water are getting some aid, but not consistently and not equally.

In the village of Kalapara today, hope came in the form of food delivered by a private group, some of the only help residents of the devastated area have received since Cyclone Sidr came ashore nine days ago, killing more than 3,100 people.

But somehow, in their desperation, the thought of not getting food spread through the villagers and overcame them. They began running to the aid, and the weight of a stampede caused a bridge they were crossing to collapse. At least one person died and dozens were injured -- the number of injured could be as high as 100.

Mamun Ali, 8, was waiting for his father to cross the bridge when it collapsed, according to The Associated Press. The boy saw rescuers taking his injured father away.

"The company which was to distribute food to the area did not control the crowd as they did not take any protection from police or local authorities, resulting in the accident," local police chief Abu Saleh Mohammad Raihan told news agencies.

The villagers of south Bangladesh -- one of the poorest parts of the planet -- who are waiting for help had next to nothing before the storm. Now they have even less.

"I am destined to die here," an elderly woman in the village of Pathargata said as she begged me for money. A local journalist handed her the equaivalent of about a dollar.

"All my five children killed dead. You help me," Nosri Islam told ABC News in English in the same village.

Asked what they needed, a group of people in Sharunkula told ABC News over and over again via a translator: "I need everything."

ABC News arrived in Sharunkula as the military was about to distribute World Food Program high-energy biscuits. In all, the United Nations food agency is handing out 1,000 tons of food over the next few weeks, according to Douglas Broderick, the Bangladesh WFP representative. That's good enough to feed 2.2 million people.

The crowd was orderly until something sparked a wave of fear. Suddenly, some people started pushing and the hundreds who had been waiting for hours for distribution turned into a mob. It happened almost instantaneously. Someone had become convinced he or she wasn't going to get the food, so they panicked.

Thirty seconds later, the back of the fearful and famished crowd was falling into the front of the crowd, which was being pushed backward by the police with sticks and whistles.

More aid is on the way, and today a handful of U.S. troops began distributing water-treatment plants and water bottles.

The lack of clean water across the south makes relief workers fearful of diseases like diarrhea and cholera. As Rod Snider of Save the Children put it, "Too much water, not enough to drink."

The Navy and Marines have arrived on the USS Kearsarge, which is docked just off the coast. There will be no large-scale U.S. presence here. This is a conservative Islamic country that views the United States very skeptically, and a small group demonstrated against America on Friday. But there will be dozens of helicopters flying around ferrying international aid to the hardest hit villagers. Marines who are already in the country said there will be no more than 23 of them on the ground at any one point.

"This is not a U.S.-only operation; it's in support of Bangladeshi operations," Adm. Timothy Keating, the commander of American forces in the Pacific, told reporters in Dhaka. "We are not just going to come storming ashore."

The Kearsarge and two more ships that will arrive in the coming days carry more than 20 helicopters, hovercrafts, medical equipment, water and water cans, food and relief supplies such as sanitation kits. The Marines will begin delivering a sizeable amount of aid on Sunday and into early next week.

Help is coming to this part of the world. But with the fears of disease, and with the desperation of many villagers rising, the question is whether is will arrive soon enough.

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