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Section of a bridge collapses in Bangladesh as cyclone victims rush for aid

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    KALAPARA, Bangladesh — A section of a bridge collapsed Saturday under the weight of thousands of hungry cyclone victims rushing toward a relief center in southwestern Bangladesh. At least one person died and dozens were injured, officials said.
    Rescuers worked to remove concrete slabs from the collapsed 30-foot section to search for people feared crushed underneath, while frantic villagers gathered at the site on a river in Patuakhali district, one of the areas hit hardest by Tropical Cyclone Sidr earlier this month.
    Dozens were injured and one person was killed, said Ashraful Zaman, an official at the local Disaster Management Control Room.
    At least 12 of the victims were severely hurt, said local police officer Mohammad Yunus.
    Zaman said the stampede across the 500-foot bridge was triggered by an offer of rice by a private group that had not alerted local officials of its plans.
    Since the Nov. 15 cyclone hit southwestern Bangladesh, officials and relief agencies have struggled to get rice, drinking water and tents to remote villages since the storm left many roads blocked by fallen trees and other debris.
    Authorities will distribute 33 pounds of rice per month to each of an estimated 2.5 million people left destitute by the storm, many in crowded relief camps, starting Dec. 1, said Tapan Chowdhoury, the government’s adviser on food and disaster management. The program will last at least four months, he said.
    The U.S. Navy prepared Saturday to distribute food and medicine to cyclone survivors, am American official said.
    The USS Kearsarge, carrying about 20 helicopters and relief supplies, was docked off the country’s coast as naval officers made arrangements to deliver large aid packages possibly as early as Sunday to remote villages cut off by the storm.
    The U.S. Navy delivered 3,000 gallons of drinking water to hard-hit Barisal district on Friday, U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Amy Vrampas said.
    ‘‘We’ve been told that water was the most crucial,’’ Vrampas said.
    With many wells destroyed by the cyclone, there is a critical need for clean water supplies to prevent the spread of cholera and severe diarrhea.
    U.S. medical teams have already distributed water purification tablets in the stricken zones to prevent outbreaks of waterborne diseases, said Geeta Pasi, the top U.S. diplomat in Dhaka.
    The official death toll from the cyclone stood at 3,199, said Maj. Maim Uddin, a spokesman for the army, which is coordinating the relief and rescue work.
    The Disaster Management Ministry said 1,724 people were missing and 28,188 people had been injured. It said the cyclone destroyed 458,804 houses and partially damaged another 665,529.
    Associated Press writers Julhas Alam and Parveen Ahmed in Dhaka contributed to this report.

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