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Last Updated: Monday, 21 March, 2005, 14:36 GMT
Tornadoes hit northern Bangladesh
Bangladesh rickshaw
Such violent storms are unusual for this time of the year
At least 36 people have been killed and over 500 injured in Bangladesh by tornadoes that tore through two northern districts, officials say.

The storms struck villages in Gaibandha and Rangpur districts, flattening homes, cutting off electricity and damaging crops on Sunday night.

Several thousand people were left homeless when their houses were blown away by the strong winds and rains.

Bangladesh is a delta nation and is often hit by tropical storms.

Winds of nearly 100 km/h (60 miles an hour) hit villages in the area after dark, destroying homes made of corrugated iron or mud and straw.

The BBC's Roland Buerk in the capital, Dhaka, says that flimsy buildings were unable to withstand winds powerful enough to uproot trees and knock down electricity pylons.

Our correspondent says that around 3,000 homes were destroyed, and police say the number of dead may rise.

More than 95% homes in some villages were completely destroyed, officials said.

Rescue teams are yet to reach the worst affected areas because the roads are now blocked by debris.

Powerful storms kill hundreds of people annually in Bangladesh, but most take place during the summer monsoon and our correspondent says few people would have been prepared for a storm so early in the year.

'Plunged into darkness'

Gaibandha district police chief Bhanu Lal Das told the AFP news agency that that one tornado had killed at least 22 people and flattened thousands of houses.

"The death figures will go up as we cannot start full-scale search operations because of the rough weather," he added.

Officials say that hospitals and health complexes in the area have been overwhelmed by the number of injured.

Local journalist Mahbubul Islam told the Associated Press that villages were plunged into darkness after the tornado uprooted electricity lines.

"Many villagers, including children, have suffered cuts and bruises from the collapsing debris," Mr Islam said after visiting an affected village.

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