Worst floods in decades kill dozens in Bangladesh

By Anis Ahmed

DHAKA, June 12 (Reuters) - Heavy rain caused further havoc in the Bangladesh port city of Chittagong on Tuesday where rescuers have recovered at least 87 bodies but more feared missing following the biggest storm in decades.

Officials and witnesses said the deaths were caused mostly by landslides and the collapse of ramshackle dwellings in the city of nearly 5 million.

The flooding was so extensive that survivors were having difficulty finding dry ground to bury the dead, officials said.

Heavy rain also pounded Cox's Bazar, 100 km (60 miles) away, where lightning had killed eight people since Monday afternoon. Local officials said the flooding was getting worse every hour.

A Chittagong survivor said Monday's landslides struck so quickly that nobody had time to react.

"The hills just came crushing down on us," one said.

"It looks like we are living in a ghost city," a rescuer said. "Never before in my life have I confronted such a calamity," said another.


Officials and rescuers blamed the landslides partly on residents clearing trees and other vegetation to build homes despite warnings by environment experts.

Elsewhere in the country, rain and flash floods killed at least 15 people, disaster management officials said.

Some rivers had swollen beyond danger levels, including the Khowai in northeastern Habiganj where bank erosion made hundreds of families homeless.

Millions living on the banks of other rivers were also threatened and the prospect for relief looked bleak with more rain forecast across the country -- particularly in hardest-hit Chittagong and other hilly areas.

Most Chittagong roads were under water on Tuesday while trains and flights to and from the city were suspended for a second day. Port business was also hampered.

"The disaster caught us unawares," said Mokhlesur Rahman, Chittagong's divisional commissioner.

Meteorological officials said the rain marked the onset of the annual monsoon season -- which lasts until mid-September -- but was unusually heavy because of the influence of a storm in the Bay of Bengal.

Large areas of the Bangladesh coastline have been submerged under 3-4 feet (90-120 cm) of water because of a moderate tidal surge triggered by the storm, officials said. (Additional reporting by Nazimuddin Shyamol in Chittagong and Nurul Islam in Cox's Bazar)


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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