The heavy rain began on Friday, 29 November and continued throughout the weekend. Water soaked soft volcanic soils made the existing cracks vulnerable to landslide. The first landslide began in the Shihururwe village, in Bududa District, which attracted residents from other nearby villages, who ran to provide rescue and support. While providing support, their own village also fell victim to a landslide, which swept everything in its path “Over 39 households were buried by the mud and 25 people are still missing” said Mr. Kutosi Francis, the chairperson of one of the affected villages. By Thursday, 5 bodies had been recovered. Rescue attempts were hampered by bridges that have been destroyed by recent flooding.
A large crowd of people gathered at the scene most of looking for their missing loved ones while the rest witnessing the devastating tragedy in front of them. Rudimentary tools were used by volunteers helping to look for those buried, but success was doubtful because of the depth of the heavy wet soil.
The road to the scene was not easy to traverse and I became concerned that heavy machinery would not be able to go through to support the retrieval operation. The Red Cross team, UPDF and Police were present on the scene. There appeared to be little coordination from the national authorities at the scene and I remained wondering how victims would survive for the next few days without food and shelter for their families.
While still pondering on how the victims in the three villages would cope, I met Mr. Nawotsi Constante the local chairperson, of Shikamosi village who informed of a crack threatening seven villages and each village with an average 40 to 50 households. Together we tried to assess the depth of these cracks and the sampled points were over 6 ft deep and could go much deeper.
Many difficult questions need answers to protect people from future disasters. - What will happen to the people staying in the villages covered by the crack? Can we predict when landslides are likely to occur and evacuate people? How can people and their property be saved from damaging landslides? All these questions remained in my mind as I walked down the hill in fear of the soil collapsing on me.
It was amazing though how the indigenous trees of the type promoted by METGE remained standing after the heavy mass movement of soil.