CHITTAGONG: Landslides and lightning strikes have left nearly 100 people dead in Bangladesh as torrential monsoon rains pounded the disaster-prone country, officials said on 11 June.
At least 86 people were killed when weekend rains flooded the southeastern port city of Chittagong and set off landslides in surrounding areas. A further ten people were struck by lightning in four districts across the country.
Chittagong police and city council officials said the landslides had buried dozens of homes in hilly districts around the city of five million, and warned the death toll could still rise.
“The situation is very grave.... It is still raining hard in the city,” Chittagong police chief Moinur Rahman Chowdhury said.
Major Kawser Ali of the army control room said so far 86 bodies had been recovered in the port city. Most of the victims were killed by landslides. Another 89 people had been injured and admitted to hospital.
Chittagong division commissioner Mukhlesur Rahman said the death toll would rise as three houses containing 15-16 people were buried under 12 feet (3.5 metres) of mud in the city’s central Hathazari district.
“Army and fire brigade officers are using shovels and spades to dig through the mud. But we are racing against time to save them,” he added.
“These are the worst ever rain-triggered landslides in Chittagong,” said the head of the city’s fire brigade Rashedul Islam, adding that it could take at least another 24 hours to recover all the dead.
“Home after home has been buried in tonnes of mud and we still haven’t reached all the affected areas yet,” he said.
Thousands of troops, police and fire brigade personnel, plus civilian aid teams, had been mobilised while mosques had been asked to provide shelter to those evacuating their homes, Rahman said.
Survivors said they were stunned by the ferocity of the landslides.
“We have been living here for more than a decade. We never saw such a thing before. This morning I found myself half buried under rubble and mud,” said Anisur Rahman, 19, a resident of Hathazari, where rescue teams pulled out at least 31 bodies.
“My brother and a cousin were sleeping in another room. They died under the mud,” he said.
Fakhruddin Ahmed, head of the country’s emergency government, had sent communications minister MA Matin to the city to coordinate the relief effort but his plane could not land at the airport because of bad weather.
“It’s a huge task but we are trying to reach everyone,” division commissioner Rahman said.
Communications within the city were paralysed and telephone links with the rest of the country were down.
“One-third of the city is now under three to four feet (around one metre) of water, affecting more than 1.5 million people,” said Chittagong’s mayor, Manjurul Alam.
Bangladesh’s meteorological office has also warned that low-lying areas in coastal districts and small islands are likely to be submerged under tidal water.
It said further heavy rains were expected across Bangladesh during the next 24 hours.
“We have asked fishing trawlers and boats not to go to deep sea as squally weather and rains will continue for some time,” the department’s Sanaul Haq Mandal said.
Officials said flights to the city’s Shah Amanat International Airport had been temporarily suspended and Chittagong Seaport, which handles more than 90% of the country’s foreign trade, was also forced to close.
Landslides are a regular occurrence in hilly areas of Chittagong. Experts have previously warned of environmental disasters due to the government’s failure to stop the illegal clearing of hill areas for housing.
“The landslides were very much linked to the cutting of hills in this region,” Rahman said.