dhaka, bangladesh - Days of heavy rain at the beginning of monsoon season have caused widespread flooding in northeastern Bangladesh, leaving millions stranded and vast areas inundated, officials said Friday.
Major rivers in the two northeastern districts of Sylhet and Sunamganj have swollen to dangerously high levels because of heavy downpours, according to data from the country's Flood Forecasting and Warning Center.
The whole region is facing power outages, and almost all schools have been converted to makeshift flood shelters. State officials said flights at Osmani International Airport in Sylhet, the region's only airport, had been suspended because of floodwater approaching the runway.
The government has deployed members of the armed forces across the region to speed up flood rescue and relief efforts, while education officials indefinitely suspended the nation's largest secondary school exam, which was slated for Sunday.
The deluge has come on the heels of a pre-monsoon flood that ravaged the same northeastern region just a month ago, submerging 70% of Sylhet and 60% of neighboring Sunamganj, leaving at least 10 people dead and more than 2 million stranded.
People taking refuge inside a makeshift flood center set up in a school in the Chalibandar area of Bangladesh's Sylhet district. (Md Serajul Islam/VOA)
Jahangir Hossain, deputy commissioner of Sunamganj district, told VOA the latest flooding had submerged a large part of the Sylhet-Sunamganj highway, thwarting relief and rescue operations.
'The severity of the flood in my district has surpassed all the past records,' he said. 'Sunamganj is practically cut off from the rest of the country."
According to the flood warning center, water in the Sunamganj region's main Surma River was flowing 120 centimeters above the danger mark on Friday.
Sirajul Islam, who heads a trade association in the regional capital of Sunamganj town, called the floods the worst he'd seen in 20 years.
"We have to shut down all of our stores as floodwater has entered there. Besides, there is no electricity. The mobile network is also not working," Islam told VOA, adding that shop closures exacerbated the problem of dispensing basic goods and medicine.
In Sylhet, the Surma River was flowing 70 centimeters above the danger level on Friday, according to the flood warning center.
A large part of Sylhet city, an administrative seat, was inundated, with at least 10 neighborhoods covered with knee-deep water.
Sylhet city resident Pradip Chandra Das, 47, said floodwater had been entering his house since Thursday morning.
'At one point it became waist-deep and all of our household things, including furniture, fridge, got submerged and destroyed,' said Das. 'We left the house and moved to my relative's house at Haldarpara."
Sylhet Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Mojibur Rahman told VOA that Companyganj and Gowainghat with the two hardest-hit subdistricts of Sylhet.
"Those two areas got detached with other parts of the country because of floodwater,' he said. 'Armies are deployed there to airlift or ferry relief material through boats. We are trying everything from our administration to help the flood-affected people."
Members of Bangladesh's armed forces work to create a temporary embankment to protect a power station in Sylhet district so that floodwater cannot enter into it. (Md Serajul Islam/VOA) Photos credit: Md Serajul Islam
Flood center chief engineer Arifuzzaman Bhuiyah said that although some flooding is normal at the outset of monsoon season in Bangladesh, this year is different.
"This year, the situation is more severe as there was a massive and unprecedented pre-monsoon flood just a month ago, and it had taken place in the same northeast region, so people were already affected there," he said.
Bhuiyah said 2,500 millimeters - 2.5 meters or 8.2 feet - of rain had been recorded in the upstream Indian region of Assam and Meghalaya over the last three days alone.
'This is the highest amount of rain recorded in that region in the last 122 years,' he said. 'The runoff water from that heavy rain flowed down the Himalayan hills to Bangladesh's northeastern plains and caused this flood."
Bhuiyah estimated that almost 80% of the northeastern region was under floodwater.
"The weather forecast says the heavy rain will continue for the next 72 hours, which means the situation will only get worsened," he added.
Md Serajul Islam and Mohammad Mohsin contributed to this report from Sylhet and Sunamganj districts.