BUNIA, Democratic Republic of Congo – As many as 250 people are feared dead after a massive mudslide swept over a fishing village in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as the government came under fire for its slow response.
The search for survivors has been called off after last week’s disaster, which devastated Tara, a fishing village on the shores of Lake Albert on the country’s northeastern border with Uganda.
Pacifique Keta, deputy head of Ituri province where Tara is located, said the death toll was now between 150 and 250, with many still buried under the rubble of an estimated 48 destroyed homes.
The civic movement Struggle for Change (Lucha) accused the government of failing to act quickly enough after the disaster hit on August 16.
“Some of the people among the disappeared could have been saved if government intervention had been rapid,” Lucha said in a statement.
It added that President Joseph Kabila, who only issued a statement of condolence 6 days after the disaster, should have gone to Tara to console the families of the victims.
Interior Minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary only travelled to the province on Thursday on “a mission of humanitarian assistance”.
Keta told AFP that the search for bodies was suspended to prevent the spread of disease to other fishing villages on the lake.
Fishing is one of the main occupations in Ituri, which borders Uganda and is almost 2,000 kilometres (1,250 miles) from the capital Kinshasa.
“It is unacceptable that we lost 200 Congolese and no authorities are present on the ground,” said Vital Kamerhe, leader of the opposition Union for the Congolese Nation, a day before the interior minister’s trip.
Kamerhe said police had prevented him from “going to the scene of the catastrophe to sympathise with the victims”.
Government spokesman Lambert Mende on Wednesday acknowledged that the mudslide was “a major catastrophe”, but scorned critics of the authorities.
“We live in a country where people want to criticise everything,” Mende said.
The mudslide, which followed a similar deadly disaster in Sierra Leone, was the most destructive of its kind in the troubled central African country in recent years.
In May 2010, a wall of mud swept through the eastern village of Kibiriga, killing 19 people and leaving 27 others missing.
In February 2002, about 50 people were found dead after a wave of mud and rocks hit the eastern town of Uvira, submerging about 150 homes. – Rappler.com
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