August 7, 2006

Nearly 200 dead in Ethiopian floods

By Tsegaye Tadesse

DIRE DAWA, Ethiopia (Reuters) - Nearly 200 people are dead
and hundreds more missing after floods swept through an eastern
Ethiopian town over the weekend, police said on Monday.

The Dechatu river burst its banks and flooded the town of
Dire Dawa on Saturday night, drowning and trapping people in
the sandy debris as they slept. The death toll has been
mounting alongside a police recovery operation using

"One hundred and ninety-one people are dead, and we have
300 others unaccounted for, based on reports from relatives and
our officers," police inspector Benyam Fikru told Reuters.

Operations were suspended overnight in the town located in
Ethiopia's eastern lowlands, 525 km (326 miles) east of capital
Addis Ababa, but were expected to resume on Monday.

Heavy rains in Ethiopia's highlands during the June-August
season usually cause rivers in lowland areas to overflow.
Thousands have been displaced by this year's rains and this
latest surge in Dire Dawa has destroyed at least 220 homes.

Last week, the government said some 15,000 farmers were
rescued from flooded lowland villages and taken to safe areas.

Wails filled the streets as people searched for the missing
and dug through the debris for bodies of loved ones and

Zeimeda Mohamed Hussein, a 35-year-old resident of Dire
Dawa, said the crashing waters woke her late on Saturday night,
but not in time for her to save her mother and son.

"As I woke up from my sleep, I found my house surrounded by
water. I tried to get hold of my son and elderly mother and
take them to safety, but it was too late. They had been washed
away," she told Reuters. Their bodies were found later, she

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi toured the disaster
area on Monday, promising to bring swift relief.

"We will provide emergency food and assistance... (and) see
to it that they will be resettled as soon as possible," he

Ethiopia's state-run Disaster Prevention and Preparedness
Commission (DPPC) appealed for funds for disaster relief.

Many Dire Dawa residents, like 22-year-old Muleta Defada,
were lucky to escape with their lives but lost their homes.

"While we were asleep a gushing flood hit my house and it
was forced to float like a boat," he said. "I lost all my
property, but saved my life by clinging to a nearby tree."

Some residents blamed local officials for the disaster and
said the death toll of 190 could double.

"There lots of people who still remain buried in the sand,"
40-year-old Mohamed Nur Ahmed said. "The death figure... was
wrong. It could be double that."