Bangladesh rescuers race to reach landslide victims

Death toll hits 145 and is expected to rise with rain and bad roads hampering rescue efforts in southeast Bangladesh.

Rescue workers are battling to reach victims of the worst landslides to hit Bangladesh as the death toll rose to 145 on Wednesday.

The landslides, triggered by heavy monsoon rains on Monday, buried hundreds of homes in three hilly districts in southeast Bangladesh early on Tuesday, killing 98 people in Rangamati, 36 in Chittagong and seven in Bandarban, officials said.

Television footage from some of the worst-hit areas showed villagers using shovels to try to dig bodies out of the mud that had engulfed their homes as they slept.

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

Hundreds were injured and dozens still missing.

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Rescue efforts were hampered by low manpower, bad weather and mud-swamped roads, officials said.

“People called us from several places saying people were buried. But we did not have enough rescuers to send,” said Didarul Alam, fire services chief for Rangamati district.

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“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.”

Syeda Sarwar Jahan, a spokesperson for Chittagong’s local government, told Al Jazeera that around 60 rescue workers got stuck en route to Rangamati on Tuesday when mud swamped the road ahead and behind them.

“Rescuers are struggling to clear the roads and restore traffic,” she said.

Deadliest landslide

The army said thousands of troops stationed in the affected districts as part of efforts to quell a long-running tribal insurgency have joined the rescue efforts.

The death toll included four soldiers who were trapped by a landslide affer they joined a rescue operation in Rangamati. One soldier is still missing.

Firefighters in the worst-hit district of Rangamati said they had pulled 18 bodies out from under the mud on Tuesday.

Police and soldiers struggled to reach remote districts in Bandarban [AP]
Police and soldiers struggled to reach remote districts in Bandarban [AP]

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.

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

Early warnings 

Al Jazeera’s Tanvir Chowdhury, reporting from Chittagong, said heavy rain was not the sole reason behind the landslides.

“These areas are prone to mud slides, but deforestation, mismanagement and land grabs have intensified this problem … The government needs to do much more in evacuation, stopping land grabs and hill cutting as well as deforestation,” he said.

But Sarwar, the Chittagong spokeswoman, blamed the high number of casualties on residents refusing to heed government warnings.

“We were able to issue warnings to most areas, but many people did not listen,” she said. “We could not reach some areas because they were out of telephone range, while others did not respond to our calls.”

More than 10,000 people were evacuated to emergency shelters in Chittagong, Bandarban and Rangamati, Sarwar added. 

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At least 11 people were killed in the Indian states of Mizoram and Assam, which border Bangladesh, as incessant rains flooded major cities.

The monsoon rains came two weeks after Cyclone Mora smashed into Bangladesh’s southeast, 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.

With additional reporting by Muktadir Rashid in Dhaka.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies