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Dozens killed by Uganda landslides

Landslides have swamped three villages in Uganda, killing at least 86 people and leaving hundreds missing after rivers of mud swept through a church and hospital, officials said today.

Uganda's minister of state for disaster preparedness said 50 students who had taken refuge in a hospital were among the dead or missing.

Kevin Nabutwa, a Uganda Red Cross official, said 86 bodies have been recovered so far, and police and army forces are working to recover more bodies in remote villages which officials said are a three-hour walk from a main highway.

"The government is doing all it can to rescue those still alive," said Musa Ecweru, the disaster preparedness minister.

"President Museveni has instructed the army to join the organisations and volunteers carrying out rescue work."

Heavy rains began on Monday evening, triggering landslides in the Bududa region, 170 miles east of Kampala. The region has long suffered from landslides but rarely has the death toll been so high.

"All of a sudden the church collapsed. Mud covered the whole place. Five people seated next to me died. I only survived because my head was above the mud," James Kasawi, 20, said from a hospital in Bududa, where he is recovering from a broken leg and arm.

Another survivor, Mohamed Mudindi, described a scene of panic: "I was up in the mountain standing then I heard a loud bang then we saw smoke, then the landslide.

"So we started running away from the scene, we then went to the rescue place leaving many people and animals behind. So when we went back most of our people were gone."

Unusually heavy rains battered eastern Uganda in 2007 and forced 2,000 people from their homes and affected 50,000 people in what humanitarian officials said were the worst rains in 35 years.

Landslides were reported in some areas. Nearly 4,000 households said their crops were damaged and flood waters contaminated springs, boreholes and wells for thousands of Ugandans. Many people reported being too afraid to use latrines in case they collapsed.

The conditions prompted aid agencies to raise alarms about the heightened risk of malaria, diarrhoea, skin diseases, chest infections and intestinal diseases.