Bangladesh landslides, rain kill 68 people

DHAKA Mon Jun 11, 2007 4:13am EDT

DHAKA (Reuters) - Rain and landslides have killed at least 68 people in Bangladesh as early monsoon showers swept the country, officials said on Monday.

Heavy rains triggered landslides that buried hillside homes, killing 55 people and leaving scores of others missing on Monday in the port city of Chittagong, police and witnesses said.

Some 70 others were admitted to hospitals with injuries while nearly 100 more are missing, rescuers and Chittagong district officials said.

"We are facing a hell of a situation here," one rescuer said by telephone. "It's still heavily raining, and visibility has sharply declined. Roads are all under water," he said.

They fear the death toll could go higher.

"We are facing huge difficulty in trying to help the victims," said another rescue official.

Army, firefighters and police have joined volunteers in the search and rescue effort, but flooded roads were a big problem, witnesses and officials said.

Thunder storms killed 13 people elsewhere in the country, including five in western Jhenaidah district alone, local officials told reporters.

The landslide deaths in four areas of Chittagong included five from one family, they said.

Some bodies were still trapped under tonnes of rubble and police and volunteers were struggling to retrieve them.

Most shops were closed and residents were stranded by waist-high water in some areas.

Weather officials said heavy rains at the onset of the annual monsoon season have paralyzed much of Bangladesh since Sunday morning, and raised fears of flash floods in low-lying areas.

They expect showers to continue for several days more.

The weather office said the monsoon, which officially began on Friday and will last until mid-September, was unusually active under the influence of a sea storm in the Bay of Bengal.

Large areas along the Bangladesh coasts have been submerged under three to four feet of water due to a moderate tidal surge triggered by the storm, officials said on Monday.

Ports in Chittagong, Mongla and Cox's Bazar have been asked to hoist warning signals as the storm could gather strength, meteorologists said.

Some of the railway tracks between Chittagong and the capital Dhaka were also under water, although trains were still running with caution. Flights between Dhaka and Chittagong have been suspended due to rough weather, aviation officials said.

Work at the country's main Chittagong port has been partially disrupted, port officials said.

(Additional reporting by Nizam Ahmed and Nazimuddin Shyamol in Chittagong)

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