By Elias Biryabarema
KAMPALA (Reuters) - At least 18 people were killed in eastern Uganda on Monday after a landslide buried several settlements in a coffee-growing area on the slopes of Mount Elgon straddling the Kenyan border, the Uganda Red Cross said.
A local member of parliament, David Wakikona, told Reuters that up to 100 people could have been buried and local media reported that hundreds could be missing. It was not immediately possible to verify these reports.
Red Cross spokeswoman Catherine Ntabadde said: "From the latest reports we have we can only confirm 18 dead but assessment of the devastation around the area is continuing."
Wakikona said three villages had been flattened in Bumwalukani parish on the slopes of Mount Elgon "and the initial reports I have is that more than 100 have been buried.
"The areas around Bududa district have been experiencing heavy rains for days now," he said. "I am told the landslides started around midday today 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.
The area affected produces coffee in what is the third biggest economy in east Africa.
Stephen Mallinga, Minister for Relief and Disaster Preparedness, said it remained unclear how many people had been killed but confirmed three Bududa villages had been inundated.
"Our response team has already left and we hope to get a clearer picture by tomorrow (Tuesday) morning. We're also mobilizing relief items like food, tents and water containers."
The Uganda Red Cross said it had sent a team of volunteers to assess the situation. Local authorities have said there could be about 80 people living in each village.
Ntabadde said nine people had been injured and 15 houses buried in the mudslide, while 29 houses were at risk and needed to be urgently relocated.
Rain has fallen regularly on parts of Uganda over much of the past two months, even though this is usually a dry period between the rainy seasons.
(Additional reporting by Jocelyn Edwards; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Mark Heinrich)