Rescue workers battle to reach victims of Bangladesh's worst-ever landslides as toll climbs to 145

Bangladeshi firefighters and volunteers are watched by bystanders as they search for bodies after a landslide in Rangamati on June 13, 2017.
Bangladeshi firefighters and volunteers are watched by bystanders as they search for bodies after a landslide in Rangamati on June 13, 2017.PHOTO: AFP
Bangladeshi firefighters search for bodies after a landslide in Rangamati on June 13, 2017.
Bangladeshi firefighters search for bodies after a landslide in Rangamati on June 13, 2017.PHOTO: AFP
An aerial view showing the town half-submerged in floodwaters following landslides triggered by heavy rain in Khagrachari, Bangladesh, in this still frame taken from video on June 13, 2017.
An aerial view showing the town half-submerged in floodwaters following landslides triggered by heavy rain in Khagrachari, Bangladesh, in this still frame taken from video on June 13, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS
This general view shows dwellings under mud after a landslide in Rangamati on June 13, 2017.
This general view shows dwellings under mud after a landslide in Rangamati on June 13, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

CHITTAGONG, Bangladesh (AFP) - Rescue workers battled on Wednesday (June 14) to reach victims of the worst landslides ever to hit Bangladesh, as the death toll rose to 145, with dozens more missing.

Television footage from some of the worst-hit areas showed villagers using shovels to try to dig bodies out of the mud that engulfed their homes as they slept in the early hours of Tuesday (June 13).

Authorities say hundreds of hillside homes were buried by landslides in the south-east of the country after heavy monsoon rains, with 343 millimetres of rain falling on the area on Monday (June 12).

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

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Firefighters in the worst-hit 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.

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

"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.

"Our soldiers based in all parts of the Chittagong Hill Tracts have participated in the rescue operations," armed forces spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Rashidul Hasan told AFP.

Four soldiers were killed in a landslide on Tuesday and another is missing.

One survivor told how she and her family sought shelter at a neighbour's house after their own home collapsed, only to be hit by a second landslide.

"A few other families also took shelter there, but just after dawn a section of hill fell on the house. Six people are still missing," Khatiza Begum told a local news website from a hospital in Rangamati.

Rangamati district chief Manzurul Mannan told AFP 98 people had been killed there and 200 injured, some of them seriously.

At least 36 people were killed in Chittagong and seven more in the neighbouring hill districts of Bandarban and Khagrachhari, officials said.

The latest toll makes this year's disaster deadlier even than a 2007 landslide that killed 127 people in Chittagong.

Authorities have opened 18 shelters in the worst-hit hill districts, where 4,500 people have been evacuated, a minister said.

Among the victims were two fishermen who drowned off the coast of Cox's Bazar after their trawler apparently capsized.

"One trawler with three fishermen was still missing. Three more trawlers and a ship grounded at an island after they were caught up in rough weather," said Moshtaq Ahmed of the Cox's Bazar Fishing Boat Owners Association.

The monsoon rains came two weeks after Cyclone Mora smashed into Bangladesh's south-east, killing at least eight people and damaging tens of thousands of homes.

South Asia is frequently hit by flooding and landslides in the summer with the arrival of the annual monsoon rains.

More than 200 people were killed in Sri Lanka last month when the monsoon triggered landslides and the worst flooding the island has seen in well over a decade.