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By Associated Press

JOHANNESBURG — Heavy rains triggered the partial collapse of a huge mound of garbage in Mozambique's capital on Monday, killing as many as 17 people who were buried by debris.

Authorities believe more bodies could be buried at the Hulene garbage dump on the outskirts of Maputo, and a search was underway. The garbage in the poor, densely populated area where the disaster happened rose to the height of a three-story building, according to the Portuguese news agency Lusa.

Image: Rescuers search for bodies of victims buried under collapsed garbage piles
People watch as rescuers search for bodies of victims buried under collapsed garbage piles in Maputo, Mozambique on Feb. 19, 2018.Antonio Silva / EPA

Twelve people died, Lusa reported. Radio Mocambique put the death toll at 17. Half a dozen homes were destroyed and some residents in the area fled for fear of another collapse.

"The mountains of garbage collapsed on the houses and many families were still inside these residences," Fatima Belchoir, a national disaster official, told Lusa. Authorities are trying to help people who lost their homes, she said.

The Hulene garbage dump is the largest such facility in Maputo. People often comb through the garbage, searching for food and items to sell.

Health workers have long raised concerns about the impact of the fumes, flies and other hazards of the dump on the surrounding community. Municipal officials have previously discussed the closure of the dump.

Image: Residents stand next to an excavator working at the site of a dump collapse
Residents stand next to an excavator working at the site of a dump collapse in Maputo, Mozambique on Feb. 19, 2018.Mauro Vombe / AFP - Getty Images