NAIROBI, Kenya - Ugandan officials say they are no longer looking for survivors in the debris of landslides that struck Monday in the Mount Elgon area. At least 18 people were killed in the disaster, according to the Red Cross, while more than 100 are reported missing.
In a statement Tuesday, Uganda's minister for disaster relief, Stephen Malinga, said “there is no hope of finding any more survivors” from the landslides in Bududa District in the eastern part of the country. He said workers are now focused on recovering bodies and providing humanitarian assistance for more than 200 people who were displaced.
The landslides began in the afternoon Monday, following days of rain in the area.
Malinga said residents had seen cracks in the ground and heard sounds of the earth moving during the night Sunday, but did not report the early warning signs to authorities.
The mountainous area is particularly prone to landslides. A similar disaster in 2010 killed some 365 people.
Doctor Mary Goretti Kitutu, with Uganda's National Environment Management Agency, says the clay-rich soil in Bududa retains water after the rains, creating the conditions for landslides.
“This is an area where water concentrates,” said Kitutu. "And so, it has been raining consistently for three days, so this saturated the water down, making the area vulnerable. And unfortunately we had families living below, and the soil that came from this buried about 15 to 20 houses.”
Kitutu says overpopulation has contributed to land degradation, as residents clear hillside forests for firewood and farming.
Without those complex root systems to hold the earth in place, she says landslides are inevitable.
“So the moment you clear the trees, then you only leave water as the only driving force downward, and there you have no remedy - but, you will end up with the slides,” said Kitutu.
Kitutu is part of a small government team going to Bududa to assess the damage and try to determine the exact cause of the slide.
The Ugandan army has joined the relief efforts. The government warns more areas may be affected if the rains intensify.