DHAKA: Bangladesh on Wednesday launched a fresh rescue campaign as the death toll due to landslides triggered by heavy monsoon rains climbed to 137 with the majority of them reported in a remote hill district close to the Indian border.
Southeastern hilly districts of Chittagong, Bandarban and Rangamati are the worst affected districts, officials said, adding that the toll will rise further as many are still missing under tonnes of debris in southeastern hills.
Officials confirmed 129 deaths but media reports put the toll as high as 137 in nearly three days’ of torrential rains due to a depression in the Bay of Bengal which have triggered a series of landslides since Monday in the three districts.
“At least 129 people were found to have died so far while several remained missing as salvage campaign is underway,” an official at the disaster management ministry control room told reporters.
He said some 4,000 people were moved to 18 government shelters as the landslides ravaged their homes and were exposed to the danger of getting buried in fresh mudslides.
Officials feared that the death toll could rise as rescuers find it difficult to reach remote areas where telephone and transport links have remained cut.
With at least 20 landslides hitting it, southeastern Rangamati hill district was worst affected and resulted in 99 deaths, including four army personnel who were doing rescue operations.
Local people said a landslide pushed 15 army men down to around 30 feet, killing four instantly while a military spokesman in Dhaka said an army major and a captain were among four of their dead personnel.
He said the troops were called out to clear the landslide rubble from a highway linking port city of Chittagong with Rangamati.
At least 27 deaths were reported from the port city of Chittagong which witnessed five landslides while the rest of the casualties were reported from neighbouring Bandarban district where the torrential rains triggered three landslides.
Authorities temporarily halted the rescue campaign at around 10 Tuesday night after recovering 129 bodies. Specialised teams of fire servicemen and troops were mobilised to launch afresh the salvage drive.
Experts and environmentalists attributed the latest spell of landslides to illegal mining in hills which exposed them to quick erosion during rains.
The landslides triggered by the monsoon rains came two weeks after Cyclone Mora hit Bangladesh, leaving eight people dead and damaging hundreds of homes.