From: Osman Gani Mansur, Associated Press
Published June 12, 2007 12:00 AM

Death Toll from Bangladesh Mudslides, Lightning Reaches 105

CHITTAGONG, Bangladesh -- A torrent of mudslides, flooding and lightning killed at least 105 people and left scores more missing as the annual monsoon rains hit Bangladesh, washing away shanties and inundating cities, officials said Tuesday.


The worst-hit area was the hilly port city of Chittagong, where large chunks of earth slid off the soaked hillsides, burying dozens of crudely built shacks. Army rescuers pulled at least 21 bodies from the debris Tuesday, city official Nur Sulaiman said. Two other bodies were recovered from a pond, he added.


More than 50 more people were reported missing in the shantytown, which is located near a military area, he added.


The annual monsoon has spread across Bangladesh in the past few days, and the heavy rains -- the highest recorded levels in seven years -- have also inundated parts of the capital, Dhaka, and other regions of the country.


Bangladesh, a low-lying delta nation of 150 million people, is buffeted by cyclones and floods that kill hundreds of people every year. A powerful cyclone in 1991 killed 139,000 people along the coast.


Densely populated and grindingly poor, the country is filled with slums that are particularly vulnerable -- the one hit in Chittagong was home to 700 people, most of them migrant workers and their families, who lived in clusters of straw-and-bamboo or mud-and-tin shanties built on the slope of hill, survivors said.


One survivor, Dulu Mia Munshi, a rickshaw puller, lost five family members, including his wife and two small sons.


"There was a sudden rush of mud and water, and our home was swept away," Munshi told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from his hospital bed. Five other neighboring shanties on a slope were also washed away.


Munshi and his mother-in-law, who had left their hut minutes before, were the only survivors. Munshi was carried several feet away, and suffered a fractured pelvis and sprained ankles.


"My sons, aged 8 and 10, slept next to each other," he said, recalling the last time he saw his children.


Munshi had moved to Chittagong from the southern coastal district of Bhola in search of work almost 18 years ago.


Another victim, an 11-year-old-boy who gave his name only as Belal, lost his mother and two sisters.


"My mother asked me get some bricks to stop the rushing water from getting inside our house," Belal said at a military hospital where he was being treated for head and limb injuries. "As soon as I stepped outside, I was carried away by the swirling water -- and a huge chunk of earth buried our house."


The country's interim leader, Fakhruddin Ahmed, on Tuesday visited the worst-hit areas, the United News of Bangladesh news agency said. He went to a military hospital where 47 seriously injured victims were being treated and distributed emergency rations to survivors at an army-run relief shelter nearby.


"Our first task is to rescue, treat and help rehabilitate the affected people," Ahmed told reporters.


At least 67 died across the city Monday, while another four bodies were found overnight, officials said. Lightning strikes killed 11 people in the neighboring districts of Cox's Bazar, Noakhali and Brahmmanbaria, the Food and Disaster Management Ministry said.


Many of the dead were buried by city officials in rows of graves in hillside graveyards.


Many areas remained without power or water because of flooding in the city of 4 million, 220 kilometers (135 miles) southeast of Dhaka. Several city roads remained covered in slippery sludge, and the ground floors of many houses were water-logged, residents said.


The rains, which had eased by late Monday, resumed in torrents early Tuesday, flooding afresh parts of Chittagong. There were no immediate reports of new mudslides.


About 22 centimeters (8.4 inches) of rain fell in just three hours early Monday, the local weather bureau said.


Authorities moved hundreds of people in vulnerable areas to shelters in concrete school buildings, rescue officials said.


Government and charity agencies distributed food and water to about 1,000 people left homeless by the calamity, the area's government administrator Mukhlesur Rahman said. Emergency workers had managed to rescue more than 50 injured people from the rubble.


Several factories in an industrial belt around the city were also flooded, stopping production and causing extensive damage to machinery. The city's telephone, television and radio networks were also interrupted as transmission stations were flooded.


Source: Associated Press


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