/ 21 March 2005

Storm kills 34, injures hundreds in Bangladesh

At least 34 people were killed and more than 500 injured by a tropical storm that flattened more than 3 000 houses in 15 villages in northern Bangladesh, police said on Monday.

High winds, accompanied by a hailstorm, lashed the area late on Sunday, police chief Bhanu Lal Das said, killing 34 people, including 24 in the Sadullahpur sub-district and 10 in adjoining Sundarganj.

”The death figures will go up as we cannot start full-scale search operations because of the rough weather,” Das said by telephone.

Winds of about 100kph destroyed crops, uprooted trees and electricity poles, cutting off communications to the 15 villages, in one of the most impoverished parts of the country.

Police were clearing roads of hundreds of fallen trees and debris so that rescue teams could reach Sadullahpur, where about 5 000 people were left homeless in three villages in which every single house was flattened, including those made of brick, he added.

”We suspect more bodies are [buried beneath the debris] of the flattened houses,” Das said, adding that an ongoing downpour is making search operations difficult.

More than 200 injured people were rushed to various hospitals and clinics in the district, but hundreds of other injured were awaiting transport to ferry them to various medical facilities.

”There is hardly anyone who is not injured. No one is around to take the seriously injured persons to the hospitals or clear debris to recover bodies from the flattened houses,” said Abdul Hakim, police officer in charge of Sadullahpur.

The death toll is increasing by the hour, he added.

The district administration has joined police in rescue and relief operations in the affected villages, district administrator Tapan Chandra Majumdar said.

A junior minister of the government visited the affected villages early on Monday to oversee relief operations.

”We are distributing biscuits … and giving tin sheets to the affected families to build homes,” said Asadul Habib Dulu, the country’s state minister for food and disaster management.

Survivors reached by telephone said the storm had left a trail of devastation in a 20-square-kilometre area, where people are homeless and hungry.

”In the affected villages the homeless people have been … without food since last night,” said one survivor, Asaduzzaman Mamum.

Some relief has reached the villages but this is too little, Mamum added.

He said eight people were killed when the chimney of a brick kiln collapsed on them at Sadullahpur.

”There is no one to bury them.”

Tropical storms frequently hit Bangladesh during summer. Before Sunday’s storm, at least 20 people had died in five downpours in different districts since the beginning of the month. — Sapa-AFP