41 dead, millions stranded as floods hit Bangladesh, India

People being evacuated following heavy monsoon rainfall on the outskirts of Sylhet, Bangladesh, on June 17, 2022. PHOTO: AFP
Locals wading through flooded roads following heavy monsoon rainfall on the outskirts of Sylhet on June 17, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

SYLHET (AFP, REUTERS) - Monsoon storms in Bangladesh and India have killed at least 41 people and unleashed devastating floods that left millions of others stranded, officials said on Saturday (June 18).

The flooding in Bangladesh, described by a government expert as potentially the country’s worst since 2004, was exacerbated by the runoff from heavy rain across Indian mountains. 

More rain has been forecast for the next two days. 

“Much of the country’s north-east is underwater and the situation is getting worse as heavy downpour continues,” Mr Mohammad Mosharraf Hossain, chief administrator of Bangladesh’s Sylhet region, told Reuters. 

The worst-hit Sunamganj district is almost cut off from the rest of the country, he said, adding that the army was helping the authorities to rescue those trapped and distributing relief.

“There is shortage of boats, which makes it harder to move people to safer places,” he said.

Television footage showed roads and railway lines submerged, with people wading through chest-high brown churning waters, carrying their belongings and livestock. 

Although floods are a regular menace to millions of people in low-lying Bangladesh, experts say that climate change is increasing their frequency, ferocity and unpredictability.

Schools have been turned into relief shelters to house villages inundated in a matter of hours by rivers that suddenly burst their banks.

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“The whole village went under water by early Friday and we all got stranded,” said a villager known as Mr Lokman, whose family lives in Companiganj village.

“After waiting a whole day on the roof of our home, a neighbour rescued us with a makeshift boat. My mother said she has never seen such floods in her entire life,” the 23-year-old added.

Ms Asma Akter, who was also rescued, said her family had not been able to eat for two days. “The water rose so quickly we couldn’t bring any of our things,” she added. 

A woman carrying her son across flooded streets in Guwahati, the capital city of India's Assam state, on May 25, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

Situation alarming

Mr Syed Rafiqul Haque, a former lawmaker and ruling party politician in Sunamganj district, said a humanitarian crisis could emerge if the floods did not recede soon and proper rescue operations were not conducted. 

“The situation is alarming,” he said. “There is no electricity, no road connection, no mobile network. People are in desperate need of immediate shelter and food."

Lightning triggered by the storms has killed at least 21 people in the country since Friday afternoon, police officials told AFP.

Among them were three children aged between 12 and 14 who were struck by lightning on Friday in the rural town of Nandail. Another four people died when landslides hit their hillside homes in the port city of Chittagong, said the police.

Forecasters expect the floods to worsen over the next two days with heavy rain in Bangladesh and upstream in India’s north-east.

People manoeuvring a flooded road following heavy monsoon rainfall in Sylhet, Bangladesh, on June 18, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

Separately, in India’s remote Meghalaya state, at least 16 people have been killed since last Thursday, state Chief Minister Conrad Sangma wrote on Twitter, after landslides and surging rivers submerged roads.

Next door in Assam state, more than 1.8 million people have been affected by floods after five days of incessant downpours.

State Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told reporters that he had instructed district officials to provide all necessary help and relief to those caught in the flooding. 

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