DHAKA: At least 134 people were killed in Bangladesh when a series of landslides triggered by heavy rain buried hillside homes, officials said on Wednesday.
Densely populated Bangladesh is battered by storms, floods and landslides every rainy season.
The landslides hit three hilly districts in the southeast early on Tuesday, killing 98 people in Rangamati, 30 in Chittagong and six in Bandarban, said Reaz Ahmed, head of the department of disaster management.
The death toll could rise further as rescuers search for bodies and many people are still missing, Ahmed said.
“Rescue operations are being hampered by bad weather while authorities are still struggling to reach some remote areas,” he added.
Three districts worst hit
Most of the deaths occurred in three districts – Rangamati, Bandarban and Chittagong – which the meteorological office said had been pounded by heavy rains since early Monday.
Weather official Bazlur Rashid said Rangamati recorded 343 millimetres (13.5 inches) of rain on Monday.
Ahmed said disaster response teams had been deployed to the affected areas to reinforce recovery work.
“We have not been able to reach many of the affected places. Once the rains are over, we’ll get a full picture of the damage and get the recovery work in full swing,” he said.
Many of the victims were from tribal communities in the remote hill district of Rangamati, close to the Indian border, where 98 people were killed when mudslides buried their homes.
“Some of them were sleeping in their houses on hillsides when the landslides occurred,” district police chief Sayed Tariqul Hasan said.
“We’ve evacuated some of the affected villagers to schools and other safe places.”
Among the victims were at least four soldiers who had been sent to clear roads in Rangamati district after an earlier landslide.
Thousands of troops are stationed in Rangamati, where a tribal insurgency raged for two decades, and which still erupts in sporadic violence.
“The soldiers were sent to clear roads hit by a landslide in Manikchhari town when they were buried by a second landslide,” armed forces spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Rashidul Hassan said.
“Our team is working here to clear the dirt. We’ll know the full extent of the damage and casualties after they complete the work.”
The latest disaster comes after Cyclone Mora smashed into Bangladesh’s southeast in late May, killing at least eight people and damaging tens of thousands of homes.
Monsoon rains in Bangladesh’s southern hill districts frequently trigger deadly landslides.
Heavy monsoon rains also pounded the capital Dhaka and the port city of Chittagong in the district of the same name, which recorded 222 millimetres (xxxx inches) of rain, disrupting traffic for hours.
Fearing further landslides, police in Chittagong ordered the evacuation of thousands of slum dwellers living at the base of hills.
In Dhaka, where traffic was severely affected by heavy rain, a ferry sank in the Buriganga river on Monday evening with an estimated 100 passengers aboard, police said.
There were early reports of 10 people missing following the accident but a river police official said all passengers had managed to swim ashore.