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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Death Toll in Bangladesh Cyclone Continues to Rise

DHAKA, Bangladesh -- Grieving survivors and rescuers picked through the rubble left in the wake of a cyclone that battered Bangladesh as the death toll reached over 2,300 on Sunday and a government official declared the disaster "a national calamity."

Mohammad Abdur Rob, chairman of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, said the overall death toll could be much higher.

"Based on our experience in the past and reports from the scene, I would guess the death toll may be as high as 10,000," he told Reuters.

Officials also expected the death toll to rise as the search for hundreds of people missing after Thursday's storm intensified.

Military ships and helicopters were trying to reach thousands of people believed stranded on islands in the Bay of Bengal and in coastal areas still cut off by the storm.

The disaster ministry had recorded 2,300 deaths on Sunday, but local media put the figure at more than 3,500. A much-improved disaster preparedness plan has been credited with saving scores of lives.

Officials in affected areas say the death toll given by the ministry is far below the real numbers.

"Some 2,000 people have died in my area alone," said Anwar Panchayet in Bagerhat district.

Pope Benedict called on Sunday for international aid for Bangladesh.

"I encourage all possible efforts to help these brothers who are suffering so much," the pope said.

A huge effort was underway to get food, drinking water and shelter to tens of thousands affected by the storm, the worst to hit disaster-prone Bangladesh since 1991.