Congo death toll surpasses 400 after flash floods and landslides

Thousands are still missing and at least 400 people are dead after flash floods in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Martha Fairlie reports

The death toll from floods in eastern Congo has surpassed 400 as the UN chief has warned the disaster is a worrying illustration of accelerating climate change.

More bodies have been recovered in the worst-hit area, the Kalehe territory of South Kivu province, but the Congolese Red Cross volunteers do not have body bags and are having to wrap the dead in blankets.

Administrator Thomas Bakenge said the search is ongoing as more than 300 victims had been buried as of Sunday.

People walk next to a house destroyed by the floods in the village of Nyamukubi, South Kivu province, in Congo. Credit: AP

Torrential rains across Kalehe territory began on Thursday evening as rivers broke their banks and flash floods swept away the majority of buildings in the Bushushu and Nyamukubi villages.

Delphin Birimbi, a civic leader in Kalehe, said he understood thousands of people remained missing and while some doctors had arrived to treat the injured, communities were pleading for more emergency assistance.

The destruction caused by the flooding has hampered aid efforts, with two main roads impassable.

An aerial view shows the extent of the damage in Congolese villages

More than 170 victims were buried in four mass graves, a youth political activist helping in the rescue efforts in Kalehe said by telephone.

“Imagine, you bury them in a mass grave, without a coffin,” Valet Chebujongo said.

3,000 families are now homeless, Reuters reported, according to a warning from the UN.

UN chief António Guterres added: "This is a new illustration of the acceleration of climate change and its disastrous impact on countries that have not contributed in any way to a warming planet."

The Congolese government declared Monday a national day of mourning, with flags to fly at half-mast in memory of the victims.

A delegation of government officials and lawmakers sent by Congo's president, Félix Tshisekedi, arrived in Bukavu, a city near the southern part of Lake Kivu, and planned to visit the devastated area on Monday, according to a government spokesperson.

Heavy rains in recent days have brought misery to thousands in East Africa, including in parts of Uganda and Kenya.

Earlier in the week, flooding and landslides in Rwanda, which borders Congo, left 129 people dead.

It comes as authorities in Auckland declared a state of emergency Tuesday as flooding again hit New Zealand's largest city.

Authorities in Auckland, New Zealand have declared a state of emergency. Credit: AP

Further north in the city of Whangārei, a high school student was missing after a school group that was exploring caves got into trouble when floodwaters hit.

Fire and emergency crews said they had responded to more than 200 calls, most of them in Auckland.

Many were for floodwaters entering buildings, but they had also responded to landslides, falling trees and trapped cars.