59 killed in three days by lightning strikes in Bangladesh

DHAKA • Lightning strikes have killed an unprecedented 59 people in Bangladesh in three days as tropical thunderstorms hit the country before the annual monsoon, an official said yesterday.

Thirty-four people were killed last Thursday in different locations and another 25 over the next two days around the country, disaster management department chief Reaz Ahmed told AFP.

"We've not seen such a huge number of deaths due to lightning before," he said, adding that most of the victims were farmers struck while working in their rice fields.

Lightning during tropical storms usually strikes Bangladesh during the pre-monsoon and monsoon season, which runs from June to September.

According to the disaster management department, 200 people have died on average every year from lightning strikes since 2011.

Weather expert Shah Alam said deforestation was to blame for the increased number of deaths, especially the cutting down of taller trees like palms that used to attract lightning bolts.

SAFETY MEASURES

We'll ask the people not to work in open spaces such as farmland, to avoid the use of electronic gadgets such as mobile phones and not to stand under metal electric poles or big trees during lightning.

DISASTER MANAGEMENT DEPARTMENT CHIEF REAZ AHMED

Mr Alam, a former head of the Bangladesh Meteorological Department, said farmers and other labourers were also carrying more metal objects such as cellphones than before.

Many were also working through the storms rather than waiting until they had passed.

The authorities said they plan to launch an awareness campaign from today on the dangers.

"We'll ask the people not to work in open spaces such as farmland, to avoid the use of electronic gadgets such as mobile phones and not to stand under metal electric poles or big trees during lightning," Mr Ahmed said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2016, with the headline '59 killed in three days by lightning strikes in Bangladesh'. Print Edition | Subscribe