A new official count on Monday said that at least 65 people were killed in a landslide at Ethiopia’s largest garbage dump outside Addis Ababa. Whole families were killed in the tragic landslide on Saturday, many of whom were squatters who scavenged to survive in the massive landfill.

Communication minister Negeri Lencho said police and firefighters were searching a “vast area” at the Koshe dump, finding bodies throughout the day. He was careful to add that “the rescue operation is still ongoing. Security personnel and rescuers are trying their level best to locate any possible survivors, while searching for the dead.”

The landslide destroyed dozens of homes of squatters who lived at the landfill.

On Monday, Dagmawit Moges, head of the city communications bureau, said the death count from the avalanche had reached 65.

“Those at the top were taken by this pile, because it split and people could not make [their] way out of this debris,” Lencho explained. He said most of the dead they had found were women and children.

As Ethiopia’s largest, the Koshe dump was thought to be home to hundreds of people, who made a living collecting recyclable materials brought to the dump from throughout the fast-growing Ethiopian capital. Last year, the government attempted to close the dump and move the operation to a new location. The plan was opposed by residents of the proposed new site for the dump, and was scrapped.

Local residents blamed the construction of a biogas plant on top of the landfill, and the related bulldozing, for causing the landslide. Lencho denied that the construction was a cause, but said the matter was still being investigated. Instead, he blamed scavengers for digging materials out of the landfill, which he said likely caused the collapse. He added that the remaining shacks would be demolished, and residents would be resettled to a safer area.

Amnesty International took a different perspective. According to their East Africa regional director, Lynne Muthoni Wanyeki:

“[The government] was aware that the landfill was full to capacity but continued to use it regardless. It also let hundreds of people continue to live in close proximity to it.”

“These people, including many women and children, had no option but to live and work in such a hazardous environment because of the government’s failure to protect their right to adequate housing, and decent work.”

UPDATE: the death toll had risen to 82 on Tuesday.

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