You may have heard from various news sources of the terrible landslide in Bukalasi on Mount Elgon near Mbale, Uganda. It happened on Thursday 11th October, 1pm Uganda time.
Neil White is currently on Welsh Government’s ILO (International Learning Opportunity) placement in Mbale and has seen and shared his first-hand account of the aftermath of Thursday’s landslide. There are hundreds of people known to be missing and the number of dead keeps rising.
The area affected is a region we have been working in through the Mbale Trees Programme for some years. We are all too aware about the risk these landslides pose to such a highly deforested area, hence our efforts to help local communities reforest the region. More info on the Mbale Trees Programme here.
METGE colleagues have just returned from Bukalasi area.
What I saw was a scene after scene of devastation as we walked on foot through and up the valley. Most images too graphic to show. Most sights too awful to photograph.
As described to me by locals, a wall of water carrying boulders the size of houses, and enormous forest trees, crashed down the valley at 1pm Uganda time yesterday. 20 to 30ft of water roared down like a train.
The villages along the banks of the Suumni and Kasuumni rivers were unusually crowded, as people were arriving for a large country market today. The two river were rapidly overwhelmed.
Many were taking shelter in their homes and shops as heavy rain fell. This concentrated the problem that was to come.
Locals said there was a land fissure further up the valley and they think this finally collapsed under the weight of water.
Once this started to roll it was unstoppable. An eye witness said that ‘The mountain just fell’. Everything in its path went. It was hard to believe the scenes because, while I was looking at flood plains, people were telling me just a few hours before shops, schools and homes once stood there.
I was advised two school classrooms full of children were gone. Thoughts for Welsh people will naturally turn to Aberfan and our own tragic history.
Worse still was the carnage all around. Bodies and body parts were scattered everywhere. Adults, children, cattle, tangled amongst fallen trees and rocks and all under foot.
Villagers were searching and retrieving neighbours with great dignity. I commend local people, police and military personnel for their enormous efforts in appalling conditions.
We heard stories of miraculous escapes and equally devastating loss. The shock and emptiness in people’s eyes meant there were few tears. They will come. Silence seemed to hang over everything and conversations subdued.
Emergency support centres have been established quickly. And makeshift mortuaries begin to fill. As of this morning 91 bodies have been confirmed to us with 100s still unaccounted for. Many may never be found or identified who were visiting the area.
I would close by saying that if you wanted a practical example of the devastation potential of climate change come to Bukalasi. Wales is committed to helping with reforestation and support. The world desperately need this action.
As I type, this is all starting to sink in so I’m going to take a brief break. I can’t quite believe what I’ve seen. It seems like a very bad dream.