How Kasese’s valley of death snatched 16 lives

Locals stare at houses destroyed by landslides at Kasika Trading Centre in Kasese District yesterday. 

What you need to know:

  • Frantic search efforts continued into the twilight to locate anywhere between two to 10 residents reported missing, but responders said the hope of finding any alive was fast fading.

Half of the 16 victims pulled dead from under a landslide rubble in the western Kasese District were children, aged two and five, rescuers and officials said yesterday.

Frantic search efforts continued into the twilight to locate anywhere between two to 10 residents reported missing, but responders said the hope of finding any alive was fast fading.

Mr Christopher Masereka said he lost his wife, two children and a two-year-old grandson to the destructive debris.

The road heading to Kasika Trading Centre is in a sorry state after a landslide hit the area leaving 16 people dead. 

He said he and his eight-year-old daughter Angela Kyakimwa, who remains hospitalised at St Paul Health Centre IV in Kasese Municipality, survived death by a whisker.

By 4pm yesterday, 16 bodies had been retrieved in Kadingidi-Kamakombo valley and others in houses at Kasika Trading Centre in Kasese District following Tuesday night landslides triggered by a sustained downpour.

A mass of soaked soil broke off from the hills and powered down along alleys opened by run-off water, and the addition of rolling displaced rocks super-charged the speed and might of the 4am debris.

It landed with a bang on Kasika Trading Centre in Rukoki Sub-county, toppling six houses and carpeting vanilla and other farmlands valued by local leaders to gross several millions of shillings.

In the run up to the disaster, residents reported a downpour leading to Kadingidi-Kamakombo valley filling up at 3am and bursting its banks, which released torrents to inundate downstream hamlets and suffocate life.

Mr Amis Masereka, the Kasese District chief administrative officer, said rescue teams comprising Uganda Red Cross Society and local volunteers used excavators and local tools to rescue survivors and retrieve corpses. “Efforts are underway to have two more suspected bodies retrieved, six people who were rescued alive and have been admitted in different hospitals,” Mr Nelson Tumushime, the Rwenzori East police spokesperson, said.

Relatives of the deceased wait to receive the bodies of their loved ones at Kigoro Primary School playground yesterday. 

Uganda Red Cross Society spokesperson, Ms Irene Nakasiita, said their teams supported by residents pulled alive six victims trapped under debris yesterday morning.

“We want local leaders in the area to ensure that all people who are living in dilapidated structures be asked to move away because any time they (structures) will collapse and people who are living near the river banks, especially River Nyamwamba, need to move away when it is still early,” she said.

Ms Nakasiita said a device they installed at Nyamwamba River to read water levels shows a rise, flagging a potential imminent risk.

Dead bodies

Retrieved bodies were arranged on the wet ground side-by-side, and the motionless sights of neighbours who the previous evening went to bed with big dreams and after a warm meal, sparked public wailing.

Residents pay their last respects to some of the people killed by the landslides in Kasese District yesterday. PHOTOS / JOEL KAGUTA.

Kasese leaders erected tents at Kigoro Primary School playground as a reception centre where the dead bodies were temporarily placed for relatives to identify and for doctors to conduct autopsies.

Mr Eliphaz Bukombi, the district chairman, said by 4:30pm the families and relatives of the deceased had started taking bodies for burial.

“The bodies were many and we decided to call doctors to come on site (Kogoro Primary School) and do a postmortem [from there] so as to allow the family members to take bodies for burial,” he said.

He said the district disaster committee directed all Kasika trading centre residents to seek temporary shelter with relatives.

Experts speak

The National Environmental Management Authority’s senior support officer for western region, Mr Jeconious Musingwire, attributed the back-to-back landslides in the Rwenzori Sub-region to fragile soils which are easily saturated and washed away during the rainy season.

Residents inspect a damaged building at Kasika Trading Centre in Rukoki sub-county in Kasese district yesterday.

 “The mudslides in Rwenzori Sub-region are largely caused by its fragile soils which are prone to erosion. Most hilly areas don’t have trees to hold soil particles together, but as experts, we advise people to stop destroying vegetation cover,” he said.

 Mr Musingwire said a better option would be to stop farming on the hills but where impossible, cultivators in those fragile areas should employ soil water conservation structures to hold storm water.