Ugandan villagers search for relatives after landslide

Grieving villagers in eastern Uganda dug through the night and moved tonnes of mud in the hope of finding relatives buried by a huge landslide as rescue teams arrived at the scene on Thursday.

Three days after torrential rains triggered a mudslide that scarred the green slopes of Mount Elgon and engulfed an entire rural community, leaving 80 dead and 300 missing, rescuers was still battling with the elements.

In the nearby village of Bududa, relief was being organised and United Nations teams were to begin work after struggling to reach the remote disaster-stricken area near the border with Kenya.

“Definitely we will be able to begin work on the ground today [Thursday] We will certainly be working with government, and the military,” Theophane Nikyema, resident coordinator for the UN’s Uganda team, said.

“Unfortunately, the team that went to Bududa yesterday was unable to reach the site because of rain, but they should be able to access it today,” he said.

Rescue workers from the Red Cross and local officials in Bududa complained on Wednesday that driving rain, steep terrain and a lack of equipment made the relief effort slow and complicated.

Armed with spades and rudimentary farming tools, survivors dug through the night in a desperate attempt to find survivors, but not a single body was retrieved from the mudslide since Wednesday morning.

“We are digging continuously. People were digging even through the night because some relatives can’t sleep. They are just grieving,” Geofrey Natubu, vice-chairperson of Bududa district, said early on Thursday.

He said that 35 schoolchildren were believed to be among the missing.

“We estimate, according to the registry, that about 35 students are buried there. We can’t say for certain. But those ones who are missing are the ones we believe are buried,” Natubu said.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni visited the site of the landslide on Wednesday as foreign countries extended their condolences over one of the worst natural disasters to strike the East African nation in years.

Various UN agencies and aid organisations working with the Ugandan military brought equipment to the site, including generators, emergency health kits, 200 body bags, water purification and sanitation tablets.

But the lack of heavy excavating machinery to cut through the metres-thick avalanche of mud that also sent boulders and trees tumbling down the mountain left rescuers facing a formidable task.

The country relief and disaster preparedness minister said on Wednesday that bringing such equipment was “just not realistic” and locals were losing hope that bodies would be found soon, let alone survivors.

Olyamboka Sam was praying when the disaster struck.

“I was in the church when I saw the landslide coming carrying stones and trees. Everyone was running from the church,” said Sam, who was being treated for a fractured arm at a hospital in Bududa. — Sapa-AFP

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