KALEHE, Congo — The death toll from flash floods and landslides in eastern Congo has risen to more than 200, with many more still missing, according to local authorities in South Kivu province.
Thomas Bakenge, administrator of Kalehe, the hardest-hit territory, told reporters at the scene on Saturday that 203 bodies had been recovered so far, but efforts to find others were continuing.
In the town of Nyamukubi, where hundreds of houses were leveled, rescuers and survivors dug through the ruins on Saturday looking for more bodies in the mud.
Villagers wept as they gathered around some of the bodies recovered so far, which lay on grass covered in muddy cloth near a rescue post.
Grieving survivor Anuarite Zikujuwa said she had lost her entire family, including her in-laws, as well as many of her neighbors. “The entire town has turned into a wasteland. Only stones remain and we can’t even tell where our land once was,” she said.
Michake Ntamana, a rescue worker who helps find and bury the dead, said villagers were trying to identify and collect the bodies of loved ones found so far. He said that some bodies dragged from villages higher up in the hills were being buried wrapped only in leaves from the trees. “It’s really sad because we don’t have anything else here,” he said.
Rivers burst their banks in villages in Kalehe territory, near the shores of Lake Kivu on Thursday. Authorities have reported dozens of injured people. One survivor told the AP that the flash floods came so fast that they took everyone by surprise.
South Kivu Governor Théo Ngwabidje visited the area to see the destruction for himself. He posted on his Twitter account that the provincial government had dispatched medical supplies, shelter and food.
Several main roads into the affected area have been rendered impassable by the rains, hampering relief efforts.
President Felix Tshisekedi has declared a day of national mourning on Monday to honor the victims, and the central government is sending a crisis management team to South Kivu to support the provincial government.
Heavy rains in recent days have brought misery to thousands of people in East Africa, and parts of Uganda and Kenya have also seen heavy rain.
Floods and landslides in Rwanda, which borders Congo, killed 129 people earlier this week.
Local government official Bakenge told AP: “This is the fourth time that the same rivers have caused damage of this kind. Not 10 years go by without them causing enormous damage.”