DHAKA, Bangladesh – Rescuers went from door to door searching for information on people who might be missing Wednesday after massive landslides crashed onto villages and killed at least 140 in southeastern Bangladesh, officials said.
With some roads collapsed and others blocked by mud, soldiers were erecting a portable bridge to reach the worst-hit district of Rangamati, where government shelters housed about half of the 4,500 people whose homes were swamped by mud and debris unleashed by the landslides Tuesday.
"The devastation is huge," said Shah Kamal, secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management. He said it could take days before access to the area is fully restored. With power cut off in the region, information was slow to trickle out.
Rescuers were using boats to reach some areas where roads were cut off.
Elsewhere, villagers joined firefighters and soldiers in cutting fallen trees and clearing debris in remote areas where rescuers have been unable to get heavy machinery, military spokesman Rezaul Karim said.
The injured were being taken to area hospitals where doctors worked by candlelight.
Hundreds of rescuers — including soldiers, firefighters, police and volunteers — were still digging through vast piles of mud in search of bodies. But authorities would not say how many people might still be missing.
One villager described living through a landslide that killed her three children as they slept early Tuesday, according to the newspaper Prothom Aloo.
Swapan Barua said he was trying to clear rainwater from his thatched-roof home when huge chunks of mud swept down, burying the children in their beds, according to the newspaper.
Four soldiers died when a mudslide smashed into them while they were clearing a blocked road in Rangamati on Tuesday, army official Mohammed Redwan said.
Officials reported 103 dead and at least 5,000 homes destroyed or damaged in Rangamati district, where mostly tribal villagers live in small communities near a lake surrounded by hills.
Another 28 were killed in the coastal Chittagong district, six died in Bandarban, two in Cox's Bazar and one in Khagrachhari.
The delta nation of Bangladesh is frequently hit by strong storms, flooding and landslides. Experts said this week's tragedy was also the result of uncontrolled denuding and soil harvesting on hills above unplanned settlements.
Many people in hilly regions ignore authorities' calls to avoid constructing homes on slopes.