53 dead in Bangladesh floods

June 15, 2010 12:00 am

, Bangladesh, Jun 15 – At least 53 people have been killed after days of heavy rain triggered flash floods and landslides in southeastern Bangladesh, police said Tuesday.

The country\’s flood warning centre said most of the southeast had experienced heavy rainfall during the past 24 hours, with 24.2 centimetres (9.5 inches) falling in many areas.

"We\’ve found 48 bodies, including six soldiers, in the Cox\’s Bazaar region so far," said the district police chief Nibhas Chandra Majhi.

Five more bodies have been recovered in the neighbouring hill district of Bandarban, police said.

Most of the dead were washed away by flash floods or buried alive by landslides as Cox\’s Bazaar was pounded on Monday by some of the heaviest rains in decades, Majhi told AFP.

"It was a huge flash flood, it washed everything in its path away," he said. "At least 20,000 people have been trapped by the flash floods. We cannot reach them as the roads are flooded or blocked with mud."

The worst affected location, Teknaf — which is on the border with Myanmar and home to hundreds of thousands of ethnic Rohingya refugees — was where at least 34 of the bodies were recovered.

Rescue workers say the death toll was high because many residents live on hillsides in makeshift houses.

Around 15,000 Rohingya refugees living in camps — both legal and illegal — around Teknaf have also been affected by the floods, Firoz Salauddin, the government\’s spokesman on Rohingya issues told AFP.

Described by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted minorities on Earth, thousands of Rohingya from Myanmar\’s northern Rakhine state stream across the border into Bangladesh every year.

Bangladesh recognises 28,000 Rohingya as registered refugees, who live and receive aid at an official UN camp in Kutupalong. This figure is a fraction of the 200,000 to 300,000 unofficial refugees, according to government estimates.

"I\’ve never seen anything like it — water was coming from everywhere, hundreds of bamboo shacks have been washed away by the rains," Mojibur Rahman, a Rohingya refugee who lives in an official refugee camp, told AFP.

The refugee camps are often set up on newly cleared forest land and are vulnerable to landslides in heavy rain, local official say.

Conditions are dire in the unofficial camps where people have been without food for two days since the heavy rain began, said Manzural Islam, an unregistered Rohingya refugee.

"Flash floods are the worst thing that could have happened to us," said Islam, who fled Myanmar last year.

"People are living under the sky and we haven\’t had food for two days as we can\’t cook in the rain with no shelter," he told AFP by telephone.

Down the coast in Cox\’s Bazaar, an army barracks at the foot of a hill was destroyed by a landslide, with all of the six soldiers on duty and at least 20 army vehicles buried in the mud.

Weather officials have forecast further rains due to a major depression in the Bay of Bengal.

Landslides triggered by heavy rains are common in Bangladesh\’s southeastern hill districts where thousands of poor people live on deforested hill slopes.


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