August 20, 2006

Ethiopia relocates 16,000 marooned

By Tsegaye Tadesse

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia has rescued thousands
marooned by flash floods that have killed nearly 900 people
this month, but tens of thousands remain homeless as more
rivers spilled over across the nation.

State TV said on Sunday that Ethiopia had relocated 16,000
residents stranded after heavy rains caused rivers to burst
their banks.

But officials fear the death toll could still rise rapidly
as bad weather and poor access hamper relief efforts. The
floods have hit large areas throughout the Horn of Africa
nation, displacing some 48,000 people, according to U.N.

Ethiopia has warned that more rivers are overflowing, and
its major dams are near to rupturing.

In the southwestern town of Omerate, children played near
artificial sand dunes protecting the area while rescued
residents gathered under trees with friends and family, aid
workers said.

But rising waters filled a nearby dam threatening to flood
the area anew, devastated when the Omo River burst its banks
last week killing 364 people.

"The river is very high, but it's prevented from getting
into town by artificial sand dunes," said Maaike Hendriks, who
led a team from aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) to
the area near the Kenyan border.

"There were some problems with the dam. They might have to
open the gates," she added.

Water from heavy rains must be released to ease mounting
pressure on the dam's walls.


In the mainly pastoral south, rescue workers say it is
difficult to separate herders from their cattle. Special forces
in helicopters descended from ropes to help the stranded.

"The people do not like to be rescued at first because they
have to leave their cattle behind. The Ethiopian government
sometimes have a hard time getting people to come out of the
water," Hendriks said.

State TV said 13,000 people, threatened by the rising
waters of Lake Tana in the north, had been relocated to safe

MSF said last week that the number displaced by flooding
near Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile River, could rise
to 35,000 in the coming weeks.

State television said 1,000 people hit by the flooding of
the Omo River had been evacuated, while another 2,000
Ethiopians from Sodo town in the south had been saved as the
Beltain River overflowed causing landslides.

Flooding typically occurs in Ethiopia's lowlands after
heavy rains in the June-September rainy season drench the

(Additional reporting by Jack Kimball in Nairobi)