30 presumed dead in Uganda landslides, rescue called off
At least 30 people are presumed dead after landslides swept through four villages on the slopes of Mount Elgon in eastern Uganda, the minister for disaster and relief said Tuesday.
"We cannot find the bodies because they were buried very deep into the soil. Recovering the bodies and searching for the survivors will take some time, and so we have called it off," Minister Stephen Mallinga told a news conference.
"There is no hope of finding any more survivors, we have called off the rescue operations," he said, noting that there was no official death toll yet.
On Monday, the day the mud swept over the villages and buried dozens of homes, officials said they feared hundreds had died.
However, many people were not at home when disaster struck, as adults were at a marketplace that was not affected and children were in school.
The villages in the affected Bududa district have been hit by landslides in recent years. In August, more than 20 people were killed in the same region when heavy rainfall sparked a landslide. In early 2010, at least 100 people were killed in a similar incident.
Environmentalists have said the soil in the region is very fine and prone to movement because of extensive deforestation.
Thousands of people have since been evacuated from the area under a government programme to avert future disasters, but many refused to move because of family and cultural ties to the region.
The government estimates that an estimated 400 000 people may be displaced by landslides this rainy season, as more heavy storms are expected.
The Ugandan Red Cross has been supplying emergency supplies to those who lost their homes.