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Lightning, mudslides kill 78 in Bangladesh

Monsoon rains set off conditions

CHITTAGONG, Bangladesh -- Mudslides caused by monsoon rains buried bamboo and straw shacks in shantytowns and collapsed brick houses in southeastern Bangladesh yesterday, killing at least 67 people. Another 11 died when they were struck by lightning, rescue officials and witnesses said.

The hilly port city of Chittagong was hardest-hit by the heavy rains, officials said. Nearly 8.5 inches of rain fell in just three hours early yesterday, submerging the downtown in about 4 feet of water, the local weather service and witnesses said. At least 67 died in the city.

The lightning strikes killed 11 people in the neighboring districts of Cox's Bazar, Noakhali, and Brahmanbaria, the disaster management ministry said.

Heavy monsoon rains -- the highest levels recorded in seven years -- also inundated parts of the capital Dhaka and other regions of the country over the weekend.

In central China, torrential rain has killed at least 71 people in floods, house collapses, and rockslides and more heavy rain was predicted in coming days. About 643,000 people have fled their homes since Wednesday, 56,000 houses have been destroyed, and 104,000 damaged, the official Xinhua news agency

The worst-hit area in Bangladesh was a congested shantytown in Chittagong, where large chunks of hill collapsed and buried dozens of bamboo and straw shacks. The area is near a military zone and Army rescuers pulled at least 35 bodies from the debris, city official Shahidul Islam said.

"I have never seen so much water in my life," said Mofizur Rahman, 75, who lives near the city's main hospital.

Another 15 bodies were pulled from the remnants of a hilly slum on land belonging to Bangladesh Railways in another part of the city, said Nasir Ahmed, a fire brigade officer. Six others died in another hillside slum near a power station, he said, and five members of a family perished when the walls of their brick home collapsed in heavy rain on the Chittagong University campus.

Four others, including a young mother and her toddler, were killed when their house collapsed. A police officer was electrocuted when he stepped on a severed electrical wire.

Emergency workers rescued more than 50 injured people across Chittagong.

Government and charity agencies distributed food and water to about 1,000 people left homeless by the calamity, the area's government administrator Mukhlesur Rahman said.

Flash floods and inundated roads hampered the rescue efforts and traffic in the city of 4 million, about 130 miles southeast of the capital, Dhaka. Many schools and businesses were forced to close for the day.

Several factories in an industrial belt around the city were also flooded, stopping production and causing extensive damage to machinery, said M. A. Mohiuddin, whose textile mill makes goods for export.

The city's telephone, television, and radio networks were also interrupted as transmission stations were flooded.

In the neighboring Feni district, rain-swollen rivers flooded 15 farming villages, leaving at least 55,000 people stranded, CSB television reported.

No casualties were reported in Feni, 80 miles east of Dhaka, the report said.