Eighty people were confirmed dead while at least 350 were reported missing after a landslide struck Bududa District on Monday night. The tragedy followed a heavy downpour in Nametsi village on the slopes of Mt. Elgon, which started falling at about midday.
According to some survivors, most of the residents took the rain for a normal downpour, not knowing that calamity would befall them. Residents and children from Nametsi Primary School, Bukalasi Secondary School and other neighbouring schools took shelter at the trading centre and a health centre in Nametsi village.
At about 7:30pm, there was a loud noise, like an explosion, that was accompanied by heavy stones rolling down Mt. Elgon, Nametsi Village LC I chairman Dison Muluwe told Daily Monitor yesterday. About 10 minutes later, mud buried the residents who had taken shelter at the trading centre and heath centre. Others who were in their houses were also buried.
Although the local rescue team of residents armed with hoes and sticks recovered 60 bodies and eight people were taken to Bududa Hospital in critical condition, more than 100 people were believed to be buried under the massive landslide by last evening. Animals and crops were also covered.
Mr Muluwe said, “We have found 60 bodies so far yet this village had about 200 people. I don’t know how many are covered here. I am asking the government to send us help in terms of tools to retrieve the bodies that are underground and give them a decent burial.” The Red Cross said two other villages of Namakansa and Kubewo were also affected.
Disaster Preparedness Minister Tarsis Kabwegyere said the official death toll stood at 80 by 7:00pm last night. “Eighteen of them were recovered from River Manafwa about 26 kilometers from where the disaster struck,” Mr Kabwegyere told Kfm’s Hot Seat talk show. He said rescue efforts were being hampered by the terrain of the area which did not allow the use of heavy earth moving equipment. “This is not a terrain where you can go with earth moving equipment. You must use the elementary tools.”
Ministers Musa Ecweru and David Wakikhona were on the ground to help coordinate rescue efforts but it was the effort of ordinary people using the only tools available to them, bare hands and hand hoes, to dig up relatives and friends that stuck out of the humanity in the face of a major disaster. The Uganda People’s Defence Forces sent a specialised unit of 100 special forces to help in the rescue effort.
The district chairman, Mr Wilson Watira, said Monday night’s catastrophe was not the first to strike the village. He said in 1997, a landslide killed 16 people in the same area, adding that in 1972 in Bufumi village about 200 metres away from Nametsi village, a landslide then killed about 100 people during a circumcision ceremony. “As much as we tell people to move away from the area, they still want to stay even when they know that their lives are at risk,” Mr Watira said.
Additional reporting by Alfred N. Wandera & Ismail Musa Ladu