DHAKA, Bangladesh – The death toll from massive landslides triggered by heavy rains rose to 132 on Wednesday with firefighters, police and soldiers struggling to reach the remote southeastern districts to distribute aid, officials said.
It was not clear yet if any villagers were still missing after large chunks of mud swept over thatched homes and settlements in three hilly districts on Tuesday, a day after heavy rains began across the country because of the influence of a depression in the Bay of Bengal.
After an overnight halt in the search and rescue operation, rescuers resumed Wednesday morning, said Reaz Ahmed, a senior official of the Disaster Management Ministry.
Military spokesman Rezaul Karim said Tuesday that several soldiers were killed and five injured while clearing debris and mud from a highway.
Rains that began early Monday had cleared, allowing rescuers to work faster in searching for survivors. But some areas still remained cut off.
Bangladesh is in the middle of the monsoon season, but Monday's downpour was caused by a depression in the Bay of Bengal.
Officials said at least 98 of the victims died in Rangamati, one of the worst-hit districts, and 28 were killed in Chittagong while another six died in Bandarban. Extensive devastation was reported in the region. The landslides were the worst since 2007, when 127 people were killed in Chittagong.
In Rangamati's remote Kawkhali area, about 5,000 homes were either destroyed or damaged, police chief Addul Karim said. He said authorities opened six temporary shelters.
Experts say unplanned settlements at foothills and extraction of soil by unscrupulous traders were the main reasons behind such high death tolls.
Bangladesh, a delta nation of 160 million people, is prone to natural disasters such as cyclones, floods and landslides. Many people in hilly regions ignore authorities' calls to avoid constructing homes on slopes.