UGANDA: 300 feared dead as landslides bury villages in the east
Searching for survivors at a scene where dozens of people are buried following a landslide
KAMPALA, 2 March 2010 (IRIN) - At least 300 people, including 100 children, are believed to have been killed when landslides buried three villages in eastern Uganda late on 1 March after heavy rains. Some 2,000 people have been displaced and entire fields of crops ruined.
According to David Wakikona, Minister for Northern Uganda, who travelled to the scene shortly after the disaster, more than 40 bodies have been recovered from a now-buried health centre in the market town of Nametsi, in the mountainous Bududa district, some 250km east of Kampala. Many people had sought shelter in the unit from torrential rains.
He said the morning after the landslide villagers were scrabbling through mud and rocks with farm tools and using bare hands in a desperate search for survivors.
Uganda Red Cross Society (URCS) officials said that on 2 March 50 bodies had been counted while four people with broken limbs had been admitted to Bududa Hospital. More people from neighbouring villages had joined the search for survivors.
The officials described the situation as “desperate”, saying a total of 300 residents from the three villages were missing and just 31 villagers were known to have survived.
Meanwhile, nearby rivers had burst their banks and flooded homes.
“In another nearby village, five people were buried in a church, including their pastor, while about 100 children from Nametsi Primary School, who had been barred from crossing to their home by the flooding Wukha River, were also buried. Two nurses and three of their patients in Nametsi Health Center were buried. I had counted 50 bodies by the time I left the scene,” Kevin Nabutuwa, the Uganda Red Cross Programme officer for disaster management, said.
“The situation is very bad. We are still waiting for the army to come in with equipment and a medical team to see whether there are those who can be rescued,” Wakikona said.
Officials in the region said food was very short as gardens and plantations were swept away by the mud, while drinking water was not available and sanitation facilities destroyed.
“We have mobilized up to 250 soldiers and 200 policemen to join the rescue mission, but the task is overwhelming because none of us was prepared for this, including the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness,” Wanzusi Wasieba, the Bududa Resident District Commissioner, said. “The government needs to train people who are well versed in how to handle these situations and post them to districts like ours that are prone to landslides.”
Wasieba added: “The main task now is to help people survive. We need food for them, tents for shelter and safe drinking water because all water sources are contaminated. The damage is not yet known, but it is obvious that we are witnessing a critical humanitarian situation here.”