This will be a hard post. A tragedy has occurred in Bundibugyo, a disaster of climate irregularity, deforestation, population growth. Who can trace all the causes? But the effect was dramatic and deadly.
On Saturday morning, a heavy rain began in the darkness of pre-dawn. 2019's rainy season has been intense and prolonged. Making another rainy morning not so surprising. . . But around 10:30 that morning the earth gave way. At Busaru, Kirindi, and the Tokwe bridge into Bundibugyo, at least three massive mud slides of rushing water and heavy boulders crashed down the Rwenzori slopes. The Kirindi slide split in two, so the debris actually crossed the main (only) paved road four times.
When that force of water, of earth, of stone, is released, it destroys everything in its path.
The house above had a boulder run right through the back wall, with torrents of water. The news reported 20 dead. But there were most likely many more.
L, a former worker with our mission group here, was back in the district. She still runs a Bible memory club and comes to the area every couple months to supervise and have prize days. She had just finished her club and was driving back north to Bundibugyo Town for a wedding, and by God's mercy the slides happened behind and ahead of her. She was stranded though for hours. We drove the several miles up the road to the slide closest to us, meeting hundreds of people, rushing muddy water, banana trees and rocks all over the road, erosion, silt. We saw a house that had been filled with water and debris where the inhabitants had died. We tried to walk further to reach L but had to turn back. The military had arrived, and were assessing the damage. Thankfully the grader started working from the other side (Bundibugyo town) and reached her area, so she was able to drive out. Scott went back this morning (Sunday) and found the Red Cross actively documenting the damages and registering those who lost homes and property. He ended up touring the disaster area with the local government officials.
This is the swath that was created through gardens, cocoa plantations, homes, hills. A wide leveling of everything and nothing.
Scott found this woman sitting on boulders where her home used to be. She had gone out that morning, as had her husband. She had only a small exercise book with some writing in it left. Many people were sorting through debris, finding anything salvageable, perhaps broken and dented roofing sheets that could provide temporary shelter. Below, some of her neighbors at a home that was mostly destroyed but not completely leveled.
Even with photos, it is hard to describe the force.
Psalm 46 says, God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling.
Well, the mountains shook, the earth moved, the waters roared. And in the aftermath, we saw people pulling stones off of smashed motorcycles that had been swept from the road, following the trail of pooling blood to estimate where to excavate for bodies. The stone below that was stopped by a tree was about 8 feet across, yet tossed like a pebble. At least two friends have told of toddlers completely swept away, unfindable.
A mattress, some timbers, a scrap of metal, all that is left of someone's home and life.
It is hard to know how to respond, how to respect the people who have lost their lives, how to wrap our minds around the enormity of sorrow, let alone describe it. But I think it is one of our callings to bear witness. When you read about a mud slide, or a flood, those are real people who were one Saturday morning picking their cocoa or heading to market, washing clothes or cooking rice. A crashing unstoppable disaster swept through. And as people who live within a few miles, we should acknowledge their loss.
Besides bearing witness to the loss, we also bear witness to the resilience and kindness. The Red Cross and the government are actively seeking to assist. As a smaller organization with immediate access, we also have begun responding. A Christ School graduate, in fact the SAME young man who had helped me care for the mentally ill patient last month, lives in the epicenter. His home was spared but he told us about 50 people from 5 different homeless families were camping at his church. So the first need was food, and we could quickly purchase enough for a couple of hot meals today and tomorrow.
We don't even know yet what all the implications of this flood will be. There will be homes to rebuild, dozens if not more. There was damage to the protected piped water system intake, so all of our end of the district which is served by that clean water project now has no water. Josh, our engineer, will go in the morning to inspect the damage and start working on a repair. Post-flood sanitation problems could take more lives from cholera than the landslide itself. The power was out for a day, but mostly back (not ours yet . . ). The road was cut off for a day, but now at least a single lane is open and vehicles are passing. Two team families were caught out of the district and had to wait but made it back today. The road tarmac still seems to be intact under all that water. We'll see.
But like all disasters, injustice insidiously makes it worse for the poorest people. The ones who build houses on steep slopes, because the better land is taken. The ones who skimp on solid materials, because they can't afford them. The ones who do very little carbon emitting, but live in the tropical rain zones affected by post-industrial climate alterations. The ones who, when they lose a mattress and clothes and shoes and papers, have no bank account or insurance.
The second week of Advent, our theme is Peace. Comfort, comfort ye my people, speak peace. These were not words for people who were already comfortable. They were words for people who were suffering. If the Gospel makes sense, it has to make sense in Bundibugyo too. When the mountains slide towards the sea, when the rebels raid, when Ebola strikes, where is our comfort? How can we have peace? When we get the news that our former colleague here, Dr. Travis, who has been battling metastatic colon cancer for seven years now, has a new lesion in his brain? Our comfort and peace cannot depend upon being far from floods, or immune to illness or sorrow. No, our Isaiah 40 comfort is that God's promise to be present, to be our help, is unshakeable. That even in the shadow of death He will provide, He will sustain the survivors and take the departed ones to Himself. That nothing can ultimately harm those living in His love, because we belong body and soul to Him.
Pray for the Peace of Bundibugyo. For the families who lost so much. For Dr. Travis and family. For our team.
Our mission (Serge) has set up a Fund to receive donations towards immediate relief for displace families. CLICK HERE to link to the Uganda Emergency Relief Fund Giving page.