Friday, March 5, 2010



Soldiers and residents desperately trying to retrieve people trapped under the earth using bare hands and sticks

By Henry Mukasa and Paul Watala
Budada, Uganda
March 4 2010

HOPE of finding survivors of the landslide which buried three villages in Bududa dimmed yesterday after rescuers said it would be hard to find anyone alive four days after the disaster struck.

While the army, the Uganda Red Cross and residents continued to dig up the earth with bare hands and rudimentary tools, relatives who had clung onto some hope sunk into further agony.

“I don’t think there is hope of getting survivors anymore because of the mixture of mud, water and rocks. The hand-tools being used are inadequate,” the secretary general of the Red Cross, Michael Nataka, said. Since Monday, only 94 bodies have been found, local leaders said.

The UPDF deployed 250 soldiers, 50 of whom were from the engineering department, to help in the search for bodies and help the community back on its feet.

The 3rd Division commander, Brig. Patrick Kankiriho, who is overseeing the operation, said on Wednesday: “Our role is to evacuate casualties, the trapped and recover the bodies.” As he spoke, the soldiers attacked the earth with new hoes and spades.

He said it was impossible to take earth-moving equipment to the affected areas given the poor terrain.

Yesterday, a UPDF officer, who preferred anonymity, said: “We are here until the exercise is done.” He said the operation would continue for another three days. “We shall conclude that anyone who has not been recovered after a week cannot be still alive underneath,” the officer explained.

His words added to the feeling of hopelessness and pain of the bereaved who had already given up any hope of getting their dear ones alive, or to recover their bodies. “I have given up hope of finding my mum,” a resident, Nice Kayinja, said.

“What kind of life would you have to be alive under this ground up to now?” she asked in tears.

The soldiers dug the ground in turns and by late afternoon had recovered three bodies. Emotions ran high; women wailed uncontrollably each time a body was pulled out.

A putrid stench hang over the affected villages, which, from a distance, looked like a freshly-graded construction site.

For the second day, heavy rains disrupted the search for the bodies in Nametsi parish in Bukalasi sub-county.

At three O’clock, a downpour pounded the area as onlookers, soldiers, rescue teams, local and foreign journalists scampered to safety.

Curious onlookers and sympathisers walked for some 24km from the neighbouring villages to see the sorry scene. They walked back home in the raging rain which continued to pound Bugisu region. Flood waters swept gardens in low-lying areas. River Manafwa burst its banks and cut off Bududa and Manafwa.

People living on the slopes yesterday complied with the Police directive to vacate.

The rains which showed no sign of receding, set off more gushes of water from the rocks, causing panic. Families have relocated to Bukalasi where an Internally Displaced People’s camp will be set up.

The Red Cross said 1,500 people had registered for help.

Yesterday, the agency distributed an assortment of non-food items.

Meanwhile, Nile Breweries, Rwenzori Mineral Water and House of Dawda donated relief items worth sh15m to the victims.

The items included 6,000 litres of bottled water, 4,000 blankets, 50 tents and cartons of biscuits. They were handed to the head of the Red Cross, Nataka, by Nile Breweries’ corporate affairs director, Onapito Ekomoloit.

Featuring on Vision Voice’s Talk of the Nation programme last evening, Nataka said his organisation’s appeal for emergency relief had been well received.

For instance, he said, several institutions, including GOAL, an Irish NGO, Uganda Wild Life Authority, had made an on-spot assessment of the disaster areas.

Elsewhere, life is drifting from grief and despair to hope as it dawns on the residents that their relatives, friends and homes are gone and that life must go on.

In the small trading centre near the calamity scene, business has resumed. In Bukigai trading centre, the open market was also busy.