Thousands of people taking shelter from rising floodwaters in Dhaka's streets and parks panicked Friday when monsoon showers hit the city and triggered fears of a deluge.
At least 120,000 people have fled homes in the countryside to take shelter in Dhaka, a relief official said."There was great panic after the rain because for many there was hardly any place to take cover," said the official, Abdur Rashid.
At least one-third of the country is flooded, and newspapers say 758 people have died in house collapses, snake bites and drownings since June, when the annual southwest monsoon hit the subcontinent. The government says only 280 people have died, but its estimates are considered low.
More than half of Dhaka came under water after the adjacent Buriganga River burst its banks. By Friday evening the river, a tributary of the mighty Ganges, was about three inches above flood level, its highest in 34 years.
The government has set up 125 relief camps in the city and ordered the closure of all schools and colleges to use the buildings to house displaced people, Rashid said.
Floodwaters are 6 feet deep inplaces, and some residents were reported to be hoarding food.
Dhaka's airport remained open for domestic flights, but international airlines were advised to suspend operations for 24 hours. An airport official said up to 2 inches of water covered parts of the complex.
The Bengali-language Sangbad newspaper said Friday at least 10 more people died in the floods in the northern districts of Mymnesingh and Munshiganj.
The Ganges and the Brahmaputra rivers and their dozens of tributaries flow from India and through Bangladesh to the Bay of Bengal. The rivers flood almost every year after the monsoon showers in Bangladesh and India.
Flooding began in the northern districts about three weeks ago, but areas to the south were affected recently as the waters swirled downstream.
International aid for flood victims has arrived in response to an appeal from President Hussain Muhammad Ershad.