Dozens killed by massive landslide in Uganda, many more missing

Up to 34 killed after a river in eastern Uganda burst its banks, sending thick sludge and rocks through villages.

    Dozens killed by massive landslide in Uganda, many more missing
    Damaged housing is seen after the landslide triggered by heavy rains in Bududa, Uganda [Reuters TV]

    At least 34 people have been killed when a landslide rolled down the slopes of Mount Elgon in eastern Uganda, wrecking homes and burying animals.

    Rescue teams were picking through the rubble, looking for survivors and victims of the disaster which took place on Thursday in the town of Bukalasi in the Bududa district. An unknown number of people were still missing.

    "I have received the sad news of landslides wreaking havoc in Bududa district... The government has dispatched rescue teams to the affected areas," President Yoweri Museveni wrote on Twitter.

    He said the government was looking at other options to help prevent more disasters.

    "I can confirm 34 people are dead. We have to wait for our assessment to be completed before we can say how many are missing," said Uganda Red Cross spokeswoman Irene Nakasiita.

    On Thursday she shared photos on WhatsApp of the scene of what she described as a "massive landslide", including images of dismembered corpses caked in mud laid out by the river.

    Some of the bodies had been partly covered with banana leaves by members of the public.

    "The cause was the river bursting its banks upstream following heavy rain. When the water flowed down it brought a number of big stones with it that destroyed people's houses," Nakasiita said.

    She said the Red Cross was sending relief supplies to the area, such as tarpaulins, blankets and water purification tablets.

    Nathan Tumuhamye, director of an organisation that helps communities recover from natural disasters and conflict, told AFP that "four to five villages", and possibly a primary school had been affected.

    "Many more are missing, feared dead, we are reaching the peak of the second rainy season and it rained very heavily today," said Martin Owor, commissioner for disaster preparedness and management.

    The area, about 250km from the capital, Kampala, is close to the border with Kenya and is prone to landslides. 

    Relief teams are now combing the area to search for and rescue survivors, Owor said.

    "There are people who were displaced and they need shelter, food and all other support and we're moving that relief to the area."

    Al Jazeera's Malcolm Webb, reporting from Kampala, said communities in the area live on "steep slopes".

    "People survive by growing their own food, and a steadily growing population over many years has increased the demand for farmland," Webb said. 

    "People have had to cut down trees and remove vegetation so they have space to grow their crops," he added.  

    "It's the roots of those trees that hold these fragile slopes together."

    At least 100 people were killed in a landslide in Bududa in March 2010. In 2012, landslides destroyed three villages in the region.

    The government's efforts to move vulnerable people to neighbouring districts have faced resistance from residents.

    Residents carry dead bodies after the landslide hit Bududa in Uganda [Reuters TV/via/Reuters]

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies