Rescue workers battled Wednesday to reach victims of the worst landslides ever to hit Bangladesh, as the death toll rose to 146, with dozens more still missing.

Villagers in some of the worst-hit areas used shovels to try to dig bodies out of the mud that engulfed their settlements as they slept.

Authorities say hundreds of homes were buried by mud and rubble sent cascading down hillsides after monsoon rains dumped 343 millimetres (13.5 inches) of water on the southeast of the country in just 24 hours.

Disaster Management Department chief Reaz Ahmed said the landslides were the worst in the country’s history and warned the death toll would rise as rescuers reached cut-off areas.

Firefighters in the district of Rangamati said they had pulled 18 people out from under the mud on Tuesday, but did not have the manpower to reach all the affected areas.

“People called us from several places saying people had been buried. But we did not have enough men to send,” said Didarul Alam, fire services chief for Rangamati district.

“We have been unable to reach some of the more remote places due to the rain. Even in those places we have reached, we have been unable to recover all the bodies.”

The army said thousands of troops stationed in the affected districts as part of efforts to quell a long-running tribal insurgency had joined the rescue efforts.

“Our soldiers based in all parts of the Chittagong Hill Tracts have participated in the rescue operations,” armed forces spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Rashidul Hasan told AFP.

Four soldiers were killed in a landslide on Tuesday and another is missing.

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