Ref: It was a case of the protector turning the predator on the people living dangerously, surely by the sheer force of torrential rains and perhaps also by the conniving constructors.
Built to safeguard people from hill slide, the 25-foot high and 100-feet long retention wall along with a huge chunk of mud came crushing on the slum around 6am on Friday, burying alive all the eight members of two families and at least eight others.
Doctors, troops and rescue teams rushed to this devastated shanty-land of dazed, dead and dying people who flirt with disaster, stripped by poverty of options, at Batali Hill in Tigerpass at the heart of the port city.
The army and the Fire Service and Civil Defence started rescue operations with the help of police, Rapid Action Battalion, Red Crescent workers and residents that ran late into the night.
Such was the desperation that some tried to rescue people trapped under rubble, clawing at chunks of thick mud with bare hands. A medical team of the army was at the site to treat people suffering trauma.
Residents are blaming the Chittagong City Corporation (CCC) for the familiar deadly disaster that visits the hills that have come under relentless cutting blitz from powerful developers backed by politicians and government officials.
They allege that carless construction rendered the wall weak.
Rescuers pulled up the body of Rizia Begum, 38 after midnight on Saturday from the debris, Khulshi police sub-inspector Ruhul Amin said. Sometime back, the dead body of her 18-year-old daughter ‘Shahinoor’ was dug up.
The bodies of 5-year-old ‘Sazzad’ and his 4-year-old sister ‘Shahida’, were recovered in the space of half an hour from 9:30pm, Agrabad Fire Service and Civil Defence official Abdul Mannan Khan told bdnews24.com
Four bodies from a family were retrieved around 5:30pm. They were those of ‘Shafiqullah’, 40, his wife Milu Akhter, 30, their son ‘Miraj’, 5, and daughter ‘Sonia’, 8, assistant deputy director Subhash Chandra Debnath said.
Eight more bodies had been recovered from the mud until noon, said officer-in-charge of Khulshi Police Station Abu Jafar Mohammad Omar Faruque.
They were identified as Mohammad Amzad Hossain, 38, his wife Razia Begum, 27, their daughter ‘Sharmin’, 10, Rehana Begum, 40, her daughters ‘Fatema’, 9, ‘Tanjina’, 2, and ‘Sharmin’, 22, and son ‘Azad’, 10.
All the eight members of Shafiqullah and Amzad’s families perished.
Rehana Begum’s family came to live here from Muradnagar in Comilla. Her rickshaw-puller husband Bachchu Mia survived as he had gone out with his three-wheeler before the landslide struck.
Shafiqullah’s family came from Faridpur.
The families had been living in the thatched houses on the hill side for 10-15 years.
The locals said one Mohammad Ayub and another ‘Morshed’ own the shanties on the hillside.
Chittagong City mayor M Manzur Alam and the district’s deputy commissioner Fayez Ahmed visited the site immediately after the accident.
Primary and mass education minister Afsarul Ameen, local MP Nurul Islam BSc, Chittagong Development Authority chairman Abdus Salam and several political leaders visited the scene in the afternoon.
The mayor told reporters that the people of the city had been alerted to hill slide on Thursday following heavy rains in the past several days.
“We’ve forced out 30 families. They died in the hill slide as they returned,” he said.
The Chittagong City Corporation was assisting the rescue of the dead and injured people and their relatives to get the bodies, he added.
ANGER AND ALLEGATIONS
Residents of the slum said the CCC built the retention wall on a land owned by Bangladesh Railway. Begun a year back, its construction was yet to complete.
Residents said they thought the wall collapsed due to irregularities during construction. They said at least 35 families were still living in the areas adjacent to the site.
One of the inhabitants of the area, Mohammad Muslim, told bdnews24.com, “We’ve been fortunate to be alive.”
On being evicted from their houses on Thursday, he said, they returned as the East Tigerpass Government Primary School which acts as a shelter was not opened to them.
“So many people wouldn’t have died but for shelter in the school,” he alleged.
The deputy commissioner denied the allegation, however.
“They returned to their houses though the school was opened. They didn’t move from their houses on Thursday night despite requests from police, the RAB, the city corporation and district administration,” he said.
The Public Works Department was supposed to supervise the hill.
A five-strong committee, headed by an additional deputy commissioner, Ehsan Elahi, has been formed to investigate the incident.
The committee was given five days to submit the report. The investigators have visited the scene.
One member each from the eastern zone of Bangladesh Railway, Chittagong Metropolitan Police, Chittagong City Corporation and Public Works Department are also on the committee.
Committee chief Elahi told bdnews24.com the committee may expand, if needs be.
AGAIN, AND AGAIN
Mudslides strike Chittagong and its neighbouring hill districts during monsoon with unmistakable regularity.
On June 11, 2007 massive hill slides in seven places of the city killed 127 people. Eleven people died in another mudslide in Matijharna on Aug 18, 2008.
During the commemoration of the fourth anniversary of worst landslide in recent memory this year, environmental organisations demanded rehabilitation of the poor families living near hills in the city.
They accused real estate companies of cutting hills with immunity, harming the environment and increasing the risk of landslides.
(Written and edited by Biswadip Das, with inputs from Sazzad Hossain and Osham ul Sufian)