Chittagong hill tracts landslides: Horror strikes hills| The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 14, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:57 PM, June 19, 2017

Horror strikes hills

At least 130, including 4 army men, dead in a series of landslides in 3 districts; many still missing, painstaking rescue goes on; heavy rain, destruction of hills, trees caused the disaster

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In the worst landslide since 2007, at least 130 people, including four army men, have died in the hilly areas of Chittagong, Rangamati and Bandarban following incessant downpour overnight.

The death toll may rise further, officials said.

Scores more were hurt and many remained missing. Rescue operations were delayed due to bad weather, but were continuing as of filing this report last night. 

Workers salvage furniture from a house in Manikchhari of Rangamati after the area was hit by a landslide. Star file photo
A damaged house in Rangamati. Photo: Anvil Chakma, Sanjoy Kumar Barua

The landslide happened due to too much rain in a short time. Also destruction of hills and trees over the years has made the hills risky, contributing to the disaster, said Reaz Ahmed, director general of the disaster management department.

The Chittagong Hill Tracts saw over 300mm of rainfalls in the 24 hours till yesterday morning. Chittagong alone experienced 222mm of rain during the same period. None of these areas has seen such rain in recent years, he added.  

As a result, much of the low-lying areas of the hill districts went under water.

Many people remained in their shanty-like homes at the foot of the hills risking their lives, despite warnings by the local administrations.

The district administrations opened a number of makeshift shelter homes for people evacuated and rescued from some 20 landslide spots.  

The four army members died after being struck by a landslide from an adjacent hill while trying to clear a road in Rangamati's Manikchhari around 11:00am yesterday.

The landslide pushed 15 army men down to around 30 feet, killing the four instantly, witnesses said.

They are Major Md Mahfuzul Haque, Captain Md Tanvir Salam Shanto, Corporal Mohammad Azizul Haque and Soldier Md Shaheen Alam. Soldier Md Azizur Rahman remains missing.   

At least 10 more army men were injured, five critically, in the Rangamati incident, according to a press statement by the ISPR.

"I was standing a bit far as three workers and 15 army personnel were clearing the road. Suddenly a huge chunk of soil fell down and buried them instantly," Md Abu Musa, a sub-assistant engineer of Roads and Highway, told this paper.

President Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed their deep condolence over the death so many people, including the army members.

General Abu Belal Muhammad Shafiul Huq, chief of army staff, visited the spot and inspected the rescue operations. He expressed deep shock at the death of the army members.     

Reaz Ahmed, of the disaster management department, confirmed 107 deaths -- 75 in Rangamati, 26 in Chittagong and six in Bandarban.

However, around 10:30pm yesterday, Rangamati deputy commissioner put the district's death toll at 98. 

In Rangamati, which is the most affected district with over 6 lakh population, most of the victims are poor Bangalee and indigenous people living on the hill slopes.

The victims include at least 39 women and 22 children.

Between Sunday and Monday, the district administration evacuated some 700-800 people who were deemed most vulnerable, said Md Manzarul Mannan, the deputy commissioner.

Rescuers scour a landslide spot for missing victims in Lemujiri Aga area of Bandarban Sadar yesterday At least seven people including three siblings were killed and five others injured in the area following heavy downpour caused by a depression over the Bay. Photo: Anvil Chakma, Sanjoy Kumar Barua

The district administration, fire brigade and law enforcers are jointly conducting the rescue operations since yesterday morning, he said, adding that those evacuated were getting food and other necessary items. 

Mother and relatives of the three siblings wail. Photo: Anvil Chakma, Sanjoy Kumar Barua

As of midnight last night, most areas in the district were experiencing a power blackout for 36 hours and its road communications with the rest of the country were cut off.

Mobile network also appeared to have been seriously disrupted.

Army personnel recover a body of a fellow on Manikchhari-Chittagong road in Rangamati. An army team fell victim to a landslide there while clearing the road. Photo: Anvil Chakma, Sanjoy Kumar Barua

Of the 26 deaths in Chittagong, at least 22 people died in Rangunia upazila alone while the rest in Chandanaish.

Ten of the victims are children and five are women.

In the district's Borbill of Moghaichori, two families were buried alive.

Six bodies were recovered from under the mud, while two more remain missing. “The landslide was so huge that we had to use an excavator to recover the bodies,” said local Chairman Md Iqbal.

A team of Chittagong district administration asks people living in the city's Motijharna area to move to safety after a few people died in a landslide earlier. Photo: Anvil Chakma, Sanjoy Kumar Barua

Locals in some areas said many of the houses were built by cutting hills.

The June 2007 landslides in the port city claimed at least 127 lives.

In Bandarban, locals said the district administration did not take any step to evacuate people living dangerously on hill slopes.

Contacted, DC Dilip Kumar Banik said, “People living at the foot of the hills have been asked today [yesterday] to leave risky areas. Bandarban Disaster Management Committee will sit in an emergency meeting tomorrow [today].”

[Our Chittagong office, Rangamati correspondent Anvil Chakma and correspondent Bandarban Sanjoy Kumar Barua contributed to this report.]

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