Uganda landslide leaves 55 dead, more than 300 missing

KAMPALA: A landslide triggered by torrential rain has buried entire villages and left more than 300 people missing in eastern Uganda, where at least 55 people have been killed.

Rescue workers began pulling bodies from the mud after the landslide on Monday evening, while the Ugandan Red Cross reported widespread flooding and damage.

Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees Tarsis Kabwegyere told parliament that 55 bodies had been retrieved after the landslide that hit three villages in the eastern district of Bududa.

The Red Cross gave a similar death toll, adding that 350 other people were missing, while Kabwegyere said: "Over 307 people are still missing. Only 31 survivors have been accounted for from the three villages."

"By 12 noon... a total of 55 bodies had been recovered by the rescue teams comprising the army, survivors and Red Cross volunteers," the minister said.

The landslide happened after days of torrential rain. Uganda is currently experiencing unusually heavy downpours in the annual rainy season.

Local markets were destroyed, schools were forced to close and roads were blocked by heaps of earth that slid from higher ground, the national Red Cross Secretary General Michael Nataka told AFP.

Widespread flooding also affected several other villages in this region near Mount Elgon, which straddles the Uganda-Kenya border, the Red Cross chief said.

However, there were no immediate reports of casualties in the other areas stricken by the disaster, according to the Red Cross.

Tonnes of relief aid and a helicopter carrying rescuers had been dispatched to the region, the minister said.

"A trailer loaded with 26 metric tonnes of relief food left this morning for Bududa and another loaded with 25 metric tones of relief was dispatched to the neighbouring Butaleja district where over 600 people are displaced," Kabwegyere said.

Local municipal official Wilson Watila said "many (people) are still buried underground because of heavy rain" in the densely populated Bududa district.

"The whole area is threatened and we are telling people to leave immediately," he added.

Houses built on mountain slopes were swept off by the mud and peoples' belongings were seen floating on flood waters, Nataka told AFP.

The east Africa country's eastern region is also prone to landslides in the western region near the Rwenzori Mountains.

In October, Uganda issued an El Nino warning, saying that the country would experience above-average rainfall up to March 2010.

"Most parts of the country have experienced above normal rains... and it is the same El Nino conditions which are still active now reaching (their) peak," Kabwegyere said.

"The conditions are likely to begin declining in mid-March with a brief dry spell during April. It is expected to end early June," he added.

In 2008, thousands of people in northern Uganda were displaced from their homes due to heavy rains.