Landslides kill 100, strand thousands in Bangladesh, Myanmar
Yangon (AFP) June 17, 2010
Rescue workers were scrambling to provide aid to tens of thousands left homeless in western Myanmar and neighbouring Bangladesh Thursday after flash floods and landslides killed 100 people.
At least 46 were left dead as bridges and homes were damaged after record rainfall of more than 13 inches (33 centimetres) Wednesday in parts of Rakhine State in military-ruled Myanmar, the New Light of Myanmar newspaper said.
In Bangladesh, 55 people were killed on Wednesday after the worst rains in decades struck a day earlier, officials said, forcing rescuers to battle blocked roads and floods to get aid to remote communities hit by landslides.
More than 12,000 people were receiving emergency relief in makeshift camps Thursday after flash floods triggered the landslides, Bangladeshi officials said.
Dry food rations and bottles of water were handed out in the country's southeastern tip after rescue workers cleared debris from roads and accessed the hardest-hit area of Bangladesh, Teknaf, which is home to hundreds of thousands of ethnic Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.
Across the border, landslides swept away huts on hillsides in Myanmar, while some areas have seen floods as high as two feet (60 centimetres) after several days of torrential rain, the New Light report said.
A Red Cross official in Rakhine State said he feared the death toll would rise. "We are still collecting casualties from areas that we couldn't reach," he said, asking not to be named.
"We are having difficulties reaching some areas as the roads were damaged," said the official, adding that many houses, schools and monasteries were destroyed and electricity supplies were cut off in some areas.
A statement from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the area was at further risk because the rainy season has just begun.
Myanmar's deputy minister of home affairs, Phone Swe, was due to lead a fact-finding mission Thursday to the area to meet the UN and non-governmental groups on the ground and coordinate the emergency response, OCHA said.
"Many agencies have been cut off and logistics are very difficult," Vincent Hubin, deputy head of the Myanmar OCHA office, told AFP.
Landslides caused by heavy rains are a common peril in Myanmar owing to deforestation, and in Bangladesh's southeastern hill districts where thousands of poor people live on denuded hill slopes.
Around 15,000 Rohingya refugees living in camps -- both legal and illegal -- around Teknaf have been affected by the floods, Firoz Salauddin, the Bangladeshi government's spokesman on Rohingya issues, told AFP.
"We have ordered repairs for the houses of the legal refugees," he said, but declined comment on what would happen to the illegal refugees -- whom Bangladesh maintains must be sent back to Myanmar.
Conditions for the unregistered refugees were dire, Mojibur Rahman, a Rohingya refugee who lives in an official refugee camp, told AFP, saying there was "no sign" of help for the thousands unregistered who had lost their houses.
The Muslim, Bengali-speaking Rohingya are described by the UN as one of the world's most persecuted minorities.
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