Cyclone Aila death toll up to 168

CALCUTTA: The death toll from Cyclone Aila in eastern India and Bangladesh rose to at least 168 on Wednesday, officials said, while heavy rains after the storm caused deadly mudslides and slowed rescue efforts.

The toll was expected to rise in both countries as rescue workers reached cut-off areas.

The cyclone destroyed thousands of homes and stranded tens of thousands of people in flooded villages before it began to ease Tuesday.

But mudslides in India's famed Darjeeling tea district killed at least 20 people overnight, said P. Zimba, a local government official.

The official death toll in India stood at 68 by Wednesday, said Ashok Mohan Chakraborty, a senior official in worst-hit West Bengal state.

Bangladesh's Food and Disaster Management Ministry said the toll there was 100 after more bodies were found. Most victims drowned or were washed away when storm surges hit coastal areas.

Soldiers have been deployed to take food, water and medicine to tens of thousands of people stranded in flooded villages, Bangladeshi Minister Abdur Razzak told reporters Wednesday.

Chakraborty said at least 50 people had been rescued from rooftops in the Sundarbans, a tangle of mangrove forests that is home to one of the world's largest tiger populations.

Conservationists expressed concern over the tigers' fate.

At least one tiger from the flooded reserve took refuge in a house. Forest guards tranquilized it and were planning to release it once the waters subside, said Belinda Wright of the Wildlife Protection Society of India, which assisted in the operation.

It is believed about 250 tigers live on the Indian side of the Sundarbans and another 250 live on the Bangladeshi side.

Conservationists said water levels were too high for ecologists and forest officials to enter the area and assess the damage.