Officials in Uganda say nearly 80 people have been killed and about 300 others are missing and feared dead following a massive landslide late Monday in a remote part of eastern Uganda.
Ugandan army engineers have been sent to the region of Bududa, about 250 kilometers northeast of the capital, Kampala, to aid rescuers working frantically to find survivors.
Seventy-seven bodies have been recovered from the wreckage of at least 85 homes spread out over three villages. Uganda's Minister of State for Disaster Preparedness Musa Ecweru says many more are feared dead under tons of mud and debris.
"It is believed that probably about 300 people could be dead. The army is leading a team now. The trouble is you cannot use modern equipment because the terrain is so bad. You can only reach that place by foot and you need to be physically fit to do that," said Ecweru.
About 100 of the missing are children, who had earlier taken shelter in a health center now buried in mud. Ecweru says lack of mechanical diggers means rescuers can only use handheld tools, making search and rescue especially difficult and time-consuming.
Rain is also continuing to fall in the area, causing widespread flooding and blocking access to the remote region. Ugandan Red Cross workers say they have asked the army to help clear water and debris from roads so that they can begin delivering tents, blankets, jerry cans, and other essential items.
Weeks of heavy rain triggered the mudslide, which began on the slopes of nearby Mount Elgon. The affected area is technically inside a national park. But in recent years, people have encroached into the park, cutting down trees to make way for crops. Extensive deforestation is thought to have contributed to the disaster.
A global weather condition known as El Nino has caused torrential downpours in eastern Uganda and neighboring Kenya in the past two months. January and February are usually considered a dry period between rainy seasons.
With at least one more month of heavy rains predicted, Ugandan authorities have ordered an evacuation of all villages near Mount Elgon.