A landslide in eastern Uganda has killed at least 80 people and left hundreds more missing, leaving villagers digging with their bare hands in the hope of finding survivors, according to government officials.
The landslide engulfed a village in the eastern Bududa district near Mount Elgon after seven hours of heavy rain.
“The latest reports I have indicate 80 bodies have been pulled out,” Tarsis Kabwegyere, the minister for disaster preparedness and refugees, told Reuters news agency.
“About 300 people are feared buried by the landslide and the landslides are expected to continue as the rains intensify in the region,” he said.
Kabwegyere said a government response team was on the ground with food and the Red Cross had sent doctors.
He said police and volunteers were helping in the rescue saying he told parliament that mudslides were feared in five other districts currently experiencing heavy rains.
However, David Wakikoona, a local MP, said residents were using shovels, hoes and their bare hands to dig through mounds of earth to retrieve buried neighbours.
“There’s no medical personnel whatsoever on the ground and we have already told the government,” he said.
Nearly 24 hours after the tragedy, earth movers and other equipment that could bolster rescue efforts were unable to reach the area, Wakikoona said.
He said villagers told him about 100 to 150 people were at a trading centre when huge rocks slid down the hillsides, transported by mud.
Only eight people were known to have survived so far, he said.
“So in all likelihood the death toll will be more than a 100.”
In the eastern Bududa landslide, a health centre was buried along with a nurse and three support staff.
The local NTV channel showed mud and wattle houses flattened by earth and wailing villagers piling bodies on a grassy compound.
Malcolm Webb, a journalist in Uganda, told Al Jazeera that the rescue operation was complicated as many roads had been destroyed and further rain made the working conditions more difficult.
“People weren’t able to do much through the night, it was dark there is no electricity there,” he said.
“Travelling to the site this morning I saw five army trucks on their way there, suggesting the Ugandan army is reinforcing its operation, bringing more troops.
“The facilities are very basic. There are not many vehicles, people have to travel on foot, there is still a lot of work to be done.”
Parts of Uganda and neighbouring Kenya have had sustained rain for much of the past two months, which is usually a dry period between rainy seasons.