Death Toll in Bangladesh Hits 140

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) -- Rescuers struggled on Wednesday to reach villages hit by massive landslides that have killed at least 140 people while also burying roads and cutting power in southeastern Bangladesh, officials said.

To clear paths for rescue workers, villagers joined firefighters and soldiers in cutting fallen trees and clearing mud and debris unleashed by the landslides Tuesday in five hilly districts. But rescuers have been unable to get heavy machinery to the remote areas to help dig through the debris, military spokesman Rezaul Karim said.

"We are using speedboats to reach some of the affected spots. It is almost impossible to reach many of the affected places by road," said Shah Kamal, secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management.

Officials would not say whether there were people still missing, even as the death toll doubled overnight and more districts were reportedly hit by the landslides.

Some villagers were taking refuge in government shelters, but officials could not say how many. With cellphone services and power cut off in the region, information was slow to trickle out.

One villager described living through a landslide that killed her three children as they slept early Tuesday, according to the newspaper Prothom Aloo.

Swapan Barua said he was trying to clear rainwater from his thatched-roof home when huge chunks of mud swept through, burying the children in their beds, according to the newspaper.

Four soldiers died when a mudslide smashed into them while they were trying to clear a blocked road in the remote Rangamati district on Tuesday, said army official Mohammed Redwan.

The worst-hit areas were in Rangamati district, where mostly tribal villagers live in small communities near a lake surrounded by hills. Officials reported 103 dead and at least 5,000 homes destroyed or damaged in Rangamati.

Another 28 were killed in the coastal Chittagong district, six died in Bandarban, two in Cox's Bazar and one in Khagrachhari.

The delta nation of Bangladesh is frequently hit by strong storms, torrential rains, flooding and landslides. But experts said this week's tragedy was also the result of uncontrolled denuding and soil harvesting in hills above where villagers had set up unplanned settlements.

Many people in hilly regions ignore authorities' calls to avoid constructing homes on slopes.