Hills howl in grief, pain | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 15, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 04:20 AM, June 15, 2017

Hills howl in grief, pain

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When the ambulance started its engine, no one could hold him back.

An inconsolable Suresh Chakma first started walking along the fire service vehicle, pressing his hands against the windshield. When the vehicle picked up speed, he began to run, still touching the windshield.

In it lay two of his sisters and their three children -- all dead.

Suresh, aged about 40, survived the disaster as he lives away from the hill slopes at Rangapani in Rangamati town where his sisters lived.     

His shrill cries echoed through the hills. At one point, he stopped running as the ambulance carrying the bodies of his loved ones disappeared into the hills. He buried his face in his palms, and began to sob violently, his body shaking.   

Cries like his now hang heavy in Rangamati and other hill districts, after the country's deadliest landslide struck the region. The death toll now stands at 143, up from Tuesday night's 130, and is likely to rise further.

In Rangamati, the worst-hit district with 105 confirmed deaths, it's hard to find signs of everyday life.

Much of the district with a population of some 6 lakh remains without power since Sunday, as many electric poles got uprooted following incessant rain and landslides. No one is sure when the power connection would be restored.

Large chunks of soil that fell from the hills still block most of the roads. Rescue workers, including army and fire service men, are struggling to wash the mud away with hose pipes. As there is no electricity, they are using generators to power the hose pipes.   

A local journalist said the fire service there did not have adequate manpower and equipment required for the operations.   

In some parts of the district, food shortage has already set in. The crisis may deepen as supply trucks struggling to reach there with road communications between Rangamati and other districts still cut off.

The Department of Disaster Management (DDM) has allocated Tk 50 lakh, 300 tonnes of rice and 500 bundles of corrugated tin sheets for the victims.

Officials said they already began relief distribution, but many affected people said they did not get anything.

Some said they had nothing to eat and nowhere to sleep.

Of the 143 victims, four were army men, who died on Tuesday while trying to clear a road blocked by landslide in Rangamati. At least 10 more army members were injured, five critically, and one remain missing.  

The army men involved in the rescue effort said they would continue to search for their missing colleague until they found him.

Some 12km stretch of the road from Gadhra to Manikchhari has been badly damaged. Parts of roads collapsed, making it almost impossible for anyone even to walk on it.

Some 40 army personnel were involved in the rescue work at Manikchhari.

Rescuers in the district yesterday found seven more bodies, mostly children, Rangamati Deputy Commissioner Manzarul Mannan told reporters.

The rescue operation would continue today as several people were reported missing, he added.

In Bandarban, where at least nine people died, rescue operations ended around 2:00pm yesterday.

Alamgir Hossain, District Relief and Rehabilitation Office Project Implementation Officer, said they were distributing Tk 20,000 to the family for each of the dead, Tk 5,000 to each injured and 30kg rice to each of affected families.

Reaz Ahmed, director general of the Department of Disaster Management, said, "The government is assessing the total damages caused by the landslides. We will rehabilitate the affected people.”

Meanwhile, the Jatiya Sangsad yesterday adopted a condolence motion, expressing shock at the loss of lives in the disaster.

The European Union, Canada, the UK and India also expressed shock.

(Our staff correspondent Hasan Jahid Tusher and district correspondents in Chittagong, Rangamati, Bandarban and Khagracchari contributed to this report.)

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