By Vision Reporters
A MASSIVE landslide swept the slopes of Mt. Elgon in eastern Uganda on Monday night, killing at least 80 people, with 350 missing and feared dead.
The landslide erased three villages in Bududa district known as Kubehwo, Namakansa and Nametsi located in Bukalasi sub-county.
By press time, 80 bodies had been recovered, with only 43 survivors, two of them elderly women.
Over 100 pupils, who could not walk home in time because River Wukha was flooded, and took shelter in a shop in Nametsi, were buried.
The shop attendant, Michael Nabute, who had reportedly sheltered them, took off when he heard thunderous sound of rolling earth up-hill.
Other people were trapped for running in the wrong direction in a desperate attempt to escape.
Weeping residents, who lost all their belongings and livelihood, were inconsolable. They stood in small groups trying to come to terms with the loss.
Men shook their heads in disbelief while others placed their hands over their heads in shock.
Children sat on the ground helplessly. â€œItâ€™s a mourning mood,â€ Alex Bright, a security officer at the scene, remarked.
Nametsi health centre III was wiped away along with two medical assistants who were attending to two patients.They were identified as nurse Phoebe
Namwano and Kalori.
Pastor Agnes of Church of God Mabowo along with five members of the church were also buried by the earth.
â€œItâ€™s terrible,â€ exclaimed Kevin Nabutuwa of the Uganda Red Cross Mbale office.
â€œItâ€™s a disaster. Hundreds of people have been killed and buried by the landslide; the roads are impassable and the rains have resumed,â€ Nabutuwa commented. She said earth moving equipment was needed for the rescue process. The disaster which struck at 6:30pm, followed torrential rains that pounded the sub-region for three days.
Addressing Parliament about the tragedy yesterday, disaster minister Prof. Tarsis Kabwegyere said the downpour triggered off the landslides from about 800 metres above Nametsi trading centre.
â€œA mudslide covering an area of 200 metres wide came down and buried the three villages,â€ he said. â€œThe situation is sad,â€ Kabwegyereâ€™s deputy Musa Ecweru said. He oversaw the rescue mission at Nametsi.
The army, the Police, the Uganda Red Cross and district leaders rushed to the area which was reduced to a brown slope with bodies buried underneath.
Rescuers joined residents to dig up the soil for survivors and the dead for burial. The survivors were rushed to Bududa Hospital. Landslides occur when there is a downward slide of a dry mass of earth and rock.
Ecweru said President Yoweri Museveni and Prime Minister Prof. Apolo Nsibambi had ordered him to head the operation. Museveni is expected in the area this mourning.
Ecweru drove to Bududa, then walked up the drenched slopes but flew to the inaccessible valleys of Bukigai along with rescuers and medical staff. He announced government would meet all the burial expenses.
Ecweru said survivors would be relocated to Bulucheke and Bukalasi because more cracks were visible in the mountain and clouds were gathering.
â€œWe must evacuate people. We shall use some pressure this time. Certainly our people love their homes so much but we are going to tell them, â€˜love your life more,â€ Ecweru said.
Bududa district chairman Wilson Watira appealed to the survivors in the landslide-prone areas to vacate and take shelter at the sub-county headquarters.
Saying a big operation was on hand in the area, Ecweru said body parts would be buried in a mass grave.
The minister said schools that are secure will remain operational and the Government would feed the pupils.
In the nearby Bubita sub-county, six people died in Bamuyaka village while in Manjiya, about 400 were feared dead, the Red Cross said in a statement.
Parliament yesterday mourned the victims and called for the quick resettlement of people living in flood-prone areas.
Minister Kabwegyere told Parliament in a statement that landslides had also hit the districts of Bukwo, Sironko, Manafwa and Kapchorwa.
Speaker Edward Sekandi. Sekandi called for a moment of silence for the victims.
Kabwegyere said about 3,000 people living higher up the mountain were cut off. â€œEven a Caterpillar cannot reach the disaster site and the place can only be reached by foot.â€ The site is 15km from Bududa Hospital and 5km from the nearest health centre III at Bukalasi. Kabwegyere, however, said the landslides were not a surprise because of climate change and the El-NiÃ±o rains.
â€œThe situation seems to be above our control. Thereâ€™s nothing we can do to direct the rains. They are coming at their own force,â€ Kabwegyere said as he put the districts of Mbale, Bundibugyo, Kasese and Kabarole on notice.
He said 26 metric tonnes of food had been dispatched to Bududa. He said medical teams and the army 3rd Division in Mbale were providing first aid.
Willy Anokbonggo (UPC) urged Parliament to declare the place a national disaster.
Fred Bukeni (NRM) said the Government should have resettled the people earlier to avoid the tragedy. â€œOur request is that land be bought elsewhere to resettle people who are staying in the national park,â€ he suggested.
Bukeni said encroachers had cut down trees which would hold together the land in case of a slide. Nandala Mafabi (FDC) said the Government should quickly resettle the affected as it did in Bushenyiâ€™s Imaramagambo Forest. Several MPs called for a supplementary budget for the affected. Florence Ibi (FDC) appealed for relief, especially for women and child-headed homes.
The Red Cross distributed tarpaulins, blankets, jerrycans, soap, saucepans, cups and plates as well as water purification tablets. In Bukwo district, the Red Cross said the road had been blocked by mudslides while Butaleja, Budaka, Pallisa, Tororo, Mbale and Manafwa districts suffered flooding. In Butaleja, four sub-counties of Kachonga, Masimasa, Kimuntu, Nawangofu, with 6,023 households, had been affected.
The Mbale-Busolwa road also got flooded and was impassable.
The Red Cross in a statement warned of floods in Moroto, Katakwi and Nakapiripirit.
Over 800 hectares of rice crop in Doho rice scheme have been affected as well as potatoes and cassava destroyed.
Expressing condolence over the deaths, the Uganda Wildlife Authority, said the landslide started from the encroached area of the park and spread about 250 metres into the community land.
(Reported by Joseph Wanzusi,Paul Watala, Henry Mukasa, Godfrey Kimono, Catherine Bekunda
and Joyce Namutebi)