At least 30 people have died in mudslides in Uganda, and the death toll will almost certainly rise now that emergency teams equipped only with hand-held tools have given up their search for survivors.
It happened in Bududa district on Mount Elgon, close to the Kenyan border, where officials say the final toll could be in the hundreds. A government official called the region a “death trap” and said the government would move out residents.
“It is feared the landslides and floods buried about 29 homes with about 30 people,” Stephen Mallinga, Uganda’s minister for relief and disaster preparedness, said.
“We cannot as of now establish the exact number of homes and people buried.”
Workers and volunteers who dug at the mud with machetes and hoes said the job was frustrating. “The mud is just too deep,” Hannington Serugga, a rescue worker, told the Associated Press news agency.
Landslides have struck this rugged part of eastern Uganda at least once each year since March 2010, when rain-induced landslides killed about 100 people and destroyed everything from a church to the village market.
Sometimes the landslides are minor, killing a few livestock and injuring a few people. But at other times they bury whole villages alive.
Musa Ecweru, a junior minister for disaster preparedness, was mobbed by villagers after he arrived in the region with no bulldozers. Villagers asked him what the government was going to do to help them. He said bulldozers were coming, but was not sure when they would arrive.
“The local tools cannot manage,” he said. “We can’t act on emotions. We can only do what’s possible.”