KAMPALA, Uganda – At least 34 people died in mudslides triggered by torrential rains in a mountainous area of eastern Uganda that is prone to such disasters, a Red Cross official said Friday.
More victims were likely to be discovered when rescue reams access all the affected areas in the foothills of Mount Elgon, said Red Cross spokeswoman Irene Nakasiita.
People were killed by boulders and chunks of mud rolling down hills following a sustained period of heavy rains Thursday afternoon in the district of Bududa. Houses were destroyed in at least three villages, and in some cases only body parts of the victims have been recovered from the mud, she said.
“We expect the death toll to increase as some people are still missing,” she said. “It’s really bad.”
A river burst its banks, destroying a bridge and threatening settlements nearby, according to Martin Owor, a government commissioner in charge of disaster management.
At least 31 bodies had been recovered and identified, Owor said.
It was difficult to establish the number of dead because it had been a busy market day, lawmaker Godfrey Watenga Nabutanyi of Luteshe County told broadcaster NTV. “Bridges are gone. Roads have been cut off.”
Local official Wilson Watila estimated that about 100 houses had been swept away.
Residents wept over recovered bodies, while men dug into the mud with blunt pieces of wood in desperate efforts to find others.
One survivor described running to safety with a friend after spotting a house being wiped away by the mudslide.
“School children, those who were drinking, market vendors, they were all swept away,” Paul Odoki said.
In March 2010 at least 100 people died in similar mudslides in Bududa, and injuries or deaths have been reported every year since then during the wet season.
Efforts by Uganda’s government over the years to relocate all residents away from steep slopes have not succeeded. There also have been calls for people to plant more trees on steep hillsides.
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