At least 17 people were buried and killed Monday when a mountain of garbage collapsed, due to heavy rains in capital city of the southern South African nation of Mozambique.

The Associated Press reported:

Authorities believe more bodies could be buried at the Hulene garbage dump on the outskirts of Maputo, and a search was underway. The garbage in the poor, densely populated area where the disaster happened rose to the height of a three-story building, according to the Portuguese news agency Lusa.

Twelve people died, Lusa reported. Radio Mocambique put the death toll at 17. Half a dozen homes were destroyed and some residents in the area fled for fear of another collapse.

“The mountains of garbage collapsed on the houses and many families were still inside these residences,” Fatima Belchoir, a national disaster official, told Lusa. Authorities are trying to help people who lost their homes, she said.

The Hulene garbage dump is the largest such facility in Maputo. People often comb through the garbage, searching for food and items to sell.

Reuters elaborated on the horrific scene:

The collapse happened at around 3 a.m. (0100 GMT) in the impoverished Hulene neighbourhood, which is around 10 km (6 miles) from the centre of Maputo. The houses were built illegally and authorities had previously asked the residents to leave, officials said.

“Up to now 17 dead bodies were recovered. We fear more might be unaccounted for. So we will keep searching for bodies buried underneath the garbage pile,” a councillor for Ka Mavota Municipal District, Despedida Rita, told reporters.