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At least 46 people are dead and several dozen are missing after a mountain of garbage collapsed at a dump outside Addis Ababa.

Officials were still investigating how the landslide at the sprawling Koshe landfill occurred Saturday night, Lencho said.

Local residents said there were some 50 houses with around seven people living in each at the site. Yearly an average of 300,000 tons of rubbish are dumped on the landfill. Many people have also constructed mud and concrete homes inside the landfill.

"My house was right inside there", Tebeju Asres told AP, pointing to an muddy area excavators were digging out.

"My mother and three of my sisters were there when the landslide happened".

Ethopia's communications minister, Negeri Lencho, called the collapse "a sad story", claiming that it occurred at a time the authorities were making efforts to resettle the people living there, as cited by CNN.

Most of the casualties were those of squatters who scavenged at the Koshe landfill. The dumping had stopped in recent years but resumed after nearby farmers blocked dumping in their area.

"The accident was so huge that we do not know the number of people who have died and who survived", one survivor told a VOA Horn of Africa reporter in Addis Ababa.

The landfill takes nearly 300,000 tonnes of waste a year from the city's 4.5 million residents, according to government statistics, and in recent years, the city's council has been warning that it is running out of room to expand, with permanent housing and schools being approached by the site's spreading boundaries.