Death toll at 152 in Bangladesh's worst landslides

CHITTAGONG • Rescue workers yesterday battled to reach victims of the worst landslides ever to hit Bangladesh, as the death toll rose to 152, with dozens more still missing.

Villagers in some of the worst-hit areas used shovels to try to dig bodies out of the mud that engulfed their settlements as they slept.

The authorities said hundreds of homes were buried by mud and rubble sent cascading down hillsides after monsoon rains dumped 343mm of water on the south-east of the country in just 24 hours.

Disaster Management Department chief Reaz Ahmed said the landslides were the worst in the country's history and warned that the death toll would rise as rescuers reached cut-off areas.

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Firefighters in the district of Rangamati said they had pulled 18 people out from under the mud on Tuesday, but did not have the manpower to reach all the affected areas.

Mr Didarul Alam, the fire services chief for Rangamati, said: "People called us from several places saying people had been buried. But we did not have enough men to send.

"We have been unable to reach some of the more remote places due to the rain. Even in those places we have reached, we have been unable to recover all the bodies."

The army said thousands of troops stationed in the affected districts as part of efforts to quell a long-running tribal insurgency had joined the rescue efforts. Four soldiers were killed in a landslide on Tuesday and another is missing.

South Asia is frequently hit by flooding and landslides in the summer with the arrival of the annual monsoon rains. But experts said unplanned development and excessive encroachment - such as cutting into hillsides - exacerbate the damaging effects of the monsoon.

Said Dhaka University environmental science professor S. M. A. Fayez: "It's a backlash effect. Such abnormal acts accelerate the disasters to become more fatal."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 15, 2017, with the headline 'Death toll at 152 in Bangladesh's worst landslides'. Print Edition | Subscribe