March 3, 2010 / 12:12 PM / 10 years ago

Search goes on for Uganda landslide survivors

NAMETSI, Uganda (Reuters) - Soldiers and villagers in eastern Uganda hacked at mounds of thick mud with picks and hoes on Wednesday in a desperate bid to find more survivors from a landslide that killed at least 80 people.

A boy walks over soil after a landslide in Bududa, 367 km (228 miles) east of the Ugandan capital Kampala, March 3, 2010. REUTERS/James Akena

Waves of mud and rocks swept down the steep mountainside late on Monday night after seven hours of rain and engulfed the village of Nametsi, burying houses, people and livestock.

The hooves of a dead cow poked through the wet mud, villagers tentatively lifted blankets to see if the dead beneath were relatives and an old lady sobbed over her husband’s body.

Some carried away corpses on makeshift stretchers and others stood and gazed at the swathe of mud hundreds of meters wide that plowed through the village and surrounding banana fields.

The hamlets cling to isolated mountainsides with no proper road access, making rescue efforts difficult. It is a two-hour trek from the main road to reach Nametsi, making it very difficult to get earth moving equipment there.

Tarsis Kabwegyere, Minister for Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, told Reuters on Tuesday evening that 80 bodies had been recovered, but hundreds more people were missing.

The government said three villages with more than 3,000 residents were badly hit and mudslides were feared in five other districts experiencing deluges.

Parts of Uganda and neighboring Kenya have had sustained rainfall over much of the past two months, which is usually a dry period between rainy seasons, and floods are already plaguing large areas.

Local political David Wakikoona told Reuters on Tuesday villagers had said some 100 to 150 people were at a trading center in one hamlet when huge rocks slid down the hillside.

He said only eight people were known to have survived so far and the final death toll would probably be over 100.

In Nametsi, residents clambered over crumpled corrugated iron sheets and large wooden polls embedded in the mud — all that remained of their homes.

Writing by David Clarke; Editing by Giles Elgood

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