KALEHE, Congo — The death toll from flash floods and landslides in eastern Congo has risen to more than 200, with many still missing, according to local authorities in South Kivu province.
Thomas Bakenge, manager of Kalehe, the worst-hit territory, told reporters at the scene on Saturday that 203 bodies have been found so far, but efforts to find others remain keep going.
In the village of Nyamukubi, where hundreds of houses were swept away, rescuers and survivors dug through the rubble on Saturday looking for more bodies in the mud.
Villagers wept as they gathered around some of the bodies found so far, lying on the grass covered with mud cloth near a lifeguard’s post.
Grief survivor Anuarite Zikujuwa said she had lost her entire family, including her parents-in-law as well as many neighbours. “The whole village has turned into a wasteland. Only the stones remain and we can’t even tell where our land used to be,” she said.
Michake Ntamana, a rescue worker who helped find and bury the dead, said villagers were trying to identify and collect the bodies of loved ones found so far. He said some bodies washed up from villages higher up in the hills are being buried with only leaves. “It’s really sad because we don’t have anything else here,” he said.
Rivers burst their banks in villages on the Kalehe territory, near the shores of Lake Kivu on Thursday. Authorities reported multiple injuries. One survivor told the AP that the flash floods came so quickly that everyone was taken by surprise.
South Kivu Governor Théo Ngwabidje visited the area to witness the devastation first-hand. He posted on his Twitter account that the provincial government had sent medical supplies, shelter and food.
Several major roads to the affected area have been impassable by rain, hampering relief efforts.
President Felix Tshisekedi declared national mourning on Monday in memory of the victims, and the central government is sending a crisis management team to South Kivu to assist the provincial government.
Heavy rains in recent days have left thousands of people miserable in East Africa, with parts of Uganda and Kenya also receiving heavy rainfall.
Floods and landslides in Rwanda, which borders Congo, killed 129 people earlier this week.
“This is the fourth time such damage has happened to the same river. Not 10 years have passed without them causing massive damage,” local government official Bakenge told the AP.