More than 100 people were missing and about 30 confirmed killed in eastern Uganda on Tuesday after a landslide the previous day buried villages in a coffee-growing area on the slopes of Mount Elgon, the government said.
On Monday, the Uganda Red Cross said at least 18 people had been killed in the disaster, but on Tuesday government officials said the number of fatalities was higher and that 109 people were still missing.
The search and rescue operation was called off on Tuesday after officials said the chances of finding any more survivors were slim.
"It is feared the landslide and floods buried about 29 homes with about 30 people dead," Stephen Mallinga, the minister of disaster preparedness and refugees, told a news conference.
He said the timing of the landslide - in the early afternoon - had prevented a much higher death toll.
"When the landslide occurred at about 2 pm, many people had gone to the market and some children were at school. Both the market and the school were not affected," he said.
Up to 400,000 people could require humanitarian aid as the rain intensified, forcing them to abandon their homes for fear of further mudslides, he added.
The Daily Monitor newspaper reported that at least 11 villages in the mountainous Bududa area of eastern Uganda had been hit and two, Namaaga and Bunakasala, had been completely engulfed.
Witness Rachael Namwono, 29, told the paper that at least 30 homes in Mabaya Village – containing an estimated 300 people – had been covered.
"At 2 p.m., the ground trembled, followed by heavy rumbling of soil and stones which covered our home," Namwono told the Monitor.
Two officials in Bunamulembwa Village said about 100 houses were destroyed, the paper added.
It was not immediately possible to verify the report, but officials in Bududa told The Associated Press that they feared that hundreds of people had been killed.
The affected villages are in a coffee-growing area on the slopes of Mount Elgon straddling the Kenyan border.
Red Cross spokeswoman Catherine Ntabadde told Reuters that the latest reports had confirmed 18 people had died "but assessment of the devastation around the area is continuing."
A local member of parliament, David Wakikona -- who said he had initial reports of more than 100 people buried -- said there was an ongoing danger.
"The areas around Bududa district have been experiencing heavy rains for days now," he told Reuters. "I am told the landslides started around midday today [Monday] and that they're still going on and some villagers who survived the early slides are fleeing."
Landslides caused by heavy rains are frequent in eastern Uganda, where at least 23 people were killed last year after mounds of mud buried their homes. Scores of people were buried alive in a similar disaster in March 2010.
Reuters and msnbc.com's Ian Johnston contributed to this report.
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