In our last newsletter we reported on the floods in Nigeria. Here is an update and first-hand account of the devastation…
The flood disaster in Nigeria started on the 19th September 2012. In many States of the federation, the State governments are exasperated with the flood that ravaged their domains, carrying off humans, animals and property worth billions of naira. Many people have been displaced and prices of foodstuffs have gone up, while farmlands have been washed off. In some cases, many people were trapped in their homes in the wake of the floods, and needed assistance to come out of their houses that were gradually submerged in water. The flood seemed to have been caused by a host of factors which include climate change, excessive downpour, blocked water ways, opening of the Cameroun dam and other environmental neglects. Nigeria was not prepared at all for such tragedy, which has inflicted so much pain and suffering on the poor people who lived in the coastal regions. The States affected by the flood include; Kogi, Delta, Anambra, Imo, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Adamawa and Edo. Delta State has been suffering prolonged effects of the flood as rainfall continued for weeks afterwards. The flood has submerged over fifty communities of the State. The flood current was very swift so that most of these communities have been washed off beyond recognition. About nineteen emergency camps have been set up in these areas to cater for the flood victims. The three camps in Ozoro community have about seventeen thousand, seven hundred and seventy five (17,775) victims residing in them. Sr Helen Eluagu RSC, who is a social worker in Ozoro community, attended a meeting on 6th October 2012, with the Political elites, traditional rulers, church leaders and president generals of the communities. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how to organize food, clothing and other necessary commodities for the flood victims. Also, the government and other well-meaning Nigerians have been rendering their assistance to help alleviate the sufferings of the victims. It was provident that the Toyota Hilux vehicle from the Religious Sisters of Charity was ready to be used for conveying most of the goods to them. Thanks to Misean Cara, Ireland, who provided funds for the vehicle. Meanwhile, Sr Helen has been networking with the Red Cross, the Local Government staff, the church groups, the state emergency management agency and other non-governmental agencies, for the distribution of food and clothing to the victims. However, in Bomadi area of Delta State, Sr Laeticia Amadi RSC, recounts her experience of the flood disaster: “Have you ever experienced flood? Have you ever been a victim of flood? Have you ever seen water getting mad and breaking through its boundaries? I hope your answer is “NO” because it is not a sight you would enjoy. It all started like a story. We heard on the news about the devastating flood in Lokoja, Benue State, in Kogi State; in four Local Goverment areas of Anambra State and suddenly it reached Delta State. So many houses have been submerged and many people being displaced on a daily basis. So many farms were ravaged by the flood and some people were over-powered by the current and washed away. Corpses were seen floating on rivers like that of the woman with a baby tied to her back floating on the river here in Bomadi. No one knows where she was washed off. Wild life were in big trouble from both the flood and people. As the animals run for safety from the flood, they bump into people who kill them or who get injured by them. Farmlands were totally destroyed and farmers were seen harvesting their crops under the water on canoes. You could imagine harvesting under the water, how many crops would you see? One man told me that if the flood does not kill him and his family, hunger would surely do so. The prices of items in the market just trippled and there is untold hardship at present. When I first saw the situation on TV, I told the pupils and teachers of our school (St Mary’s nursery and Primary School, Bomadi) to pray for the victims of this ravaging flood. We felt sorry for them and we wished there could be any way to help ease the peoples suffering. Our place in Bomadi was relatively dry and we never thought it would reach us. Suddenly on Wednesday, 13th of October, I got a distressed call from one of the teachers: “Sister, water has taken over my house ooo!” she said. As I was processing that in my head, another call came and another and yet another! I knew then that it was very serious and very close. I rushed down to school and there was commotion everywhere. There was talk here and there between parents and teachers about the force by which the flood flowed into their homes. When I looked at the river opposite the school, I saw that it has come up to land level and was actually expanding beyond its banks. I was so afraid but God’s grace and strength took over from where my strength had failed me. On Thursday I got more distressed calls as soon as I came back from Mass. This time seven of the teachers have lost their homes to the flood. They were stranded with their families and the little things they were able to rescue from the ever rising waters. On Friday I became more afraid as people from the neighboring villages started running to Bomadi for safety. I wanted to close down the school so that parents would take responsibility of their children/wards but the Bishop said we should continue for the day since the children were already in school. I decided to hold on till Monday to see the situation of things. Then we had to travel on Saturday oblivious of the condition of the roads. The four RSCs in Bomadi set out to Owerri with our driver, enjoying the company of each other and the drive when suddenly we came to a stand still. We saw men and women on bare feet with their trousers, skirts or wrappers rolled up to their knees and they had loads on their head or back. They were wet and looked like they had been swimming. From enquiry they told us thay the water had crossed the road and had made a big hole on the road that vehicles could no longer pass through it. We thought it was a joke but truly we were in it. On such a distance that would have ordinarily taken us 15 minutes to cross over, we spent four solid hours at a snail-like pace. The canal on one side of the road was full and could no longer hold waters and had to spill over across the road to the other side of the bush. The water was rushing out with full force that in our very presence the road was becoming a river with swift flowing current. I was afraid for the pedestrians because they were wading through the water with their loads, babies or toddlers. I hoped and prayed that they were not washed off. We were lucky to wade through it on this particular day. So many spent 24 hours on this spot and after that they started taking people across on boats. The water remained on the road for about four weeks and the road got divided into parts making it impossible for vehicles to pass through. It was so funny to see a young lady in the mist of this tension wearing a four inches high heel shoes with a skimpy dress; not willing to pull off her shoes like every other person. Wow! you needed to see the fun that came from this scenario. The fun and laughter was so much that the girl had to hide her legs behind someone’s luggage. Even at that, boys were running over to see for themselves the height of the shoes. It was fun for everyone but I tell you, serious embarrassment for the poor girl who never knew she would have to face such an ordeal on her jouney. These were people who must travel. If they could, they would definitely have stayed at home instead of facing such a nightmare. No vehicle could operate and people had to walk for more than two hours through the waters to the other side where they could board transport. It was in this process that a woman’s three children were washed off but thanks to the good Nigerians who rescued them as quickly as possible. As people walked passed us, a young man shouted to us saying: ‘Sisters, is the world coming to an end? One of us replied: “When the world comes to an end my brother, you will know, you will not need to ask”. Another shouted: ”God, you promised you will not destroy the world with water again. God what is happenning?” After some days the flood became impossible to wade through and people had to use canoes to move aroud. The flood came so fast and submerged almost all the creek villages. A woman told me that she felt a cold substance over her while she was asleep, when she opened her eyes she realised she had been lying in a pool of water. She jumped from her bed and landed in the water, then she raised an alarm and woke her family up. Before they could find their way to the door in the dark, the water had reached thier necks! Their saving grace was that all of them could swim. So they started swimming in the dark looking for dry land. It was when they came to land they discovered that the whole village has been submerged in water. So many lost their lives and property. At the moment, some of these villagers are taking refuge in our school as the goverment sent boats to rescue them for safety. Homes and churches were completely submerged. People left their homes and were doing their cooking on the roadside. These are people already poor and living in very poor conditions. Now they have become even poorer than ever – not having a shade over their heads. The number of mosquittoes have seriously increased. The only way to travel to Bomadi where we are is by bike popularly called ‘OKADA’. In areas where ‘Okada’ could not pass through, you had to come down and wade through the waters. The devastation caused by the flood was unimaginable. The main road had been broken into two and people had to use a wooden emergency bridge to cross the road. Vehicles were out of the question as a means of trasport.
0ne of the major roads leading into Bomadi is better seen than imagined. The flood cut through the road, but the bad boys blew the road open with dynamite so that they could charge people for a toll across by boat or canoe, but thanks be to God they were caught and dealt with accordingly. An emergency bridge had been constructed to enable the peopleto pass through the road. There is a popular saying in Nigeria that says, “man must survive” and I add to it, “under any circumstance”.
THE REFUGEE CAMPS:
The Local Government Council had decided to use some of the schools for refugee camps. They asked for permission to use our school as one of the camps. They already had three in Bomadi which were filled to the brim. We accepted the appeal immediately and were ready to work. You needed to be there to understand the excitement of the children when they were brought to the school grounds. The children went wild, jumping up and down from one corner to the other. This was because for 10 days they had not put their feet on dry land and so could not play. Thanks to the RSC donation we have been able to buy some foodstuffs such as rice, garri, tinned tomatoes, vegetable oil and indomie noodles to share out to those in our school. It was like a drop of water in the ocean. We also shared out some clothes to them. The flood victims in our school feel so lucky to be there because they had adequate security, care of the Sisters and space for their children to play. Our pupils on the other hand feel overthrown and wanted to come back to school as soon as possible. The Commissioner, the Head of Personnel Management of the Local Government Council and the former Local Government Chairman came to address the flood victims in the school. The people were listening with rapt attention and hoped something good would come out of the long speech.
The issue of the flood beats my imagination! I just could not comprehend how water could swell beyond its banks and overflow into roads, farms and houses. It makes me think of the Omniscience God who holds the whole world in His hands and He indeed has the power to do whatever He wills and that is why I say ‘OUR GOD IS TOO BIG BEYOND REASONING AND DEFINITELY BIGGER THAN THE FLOOD’.
St Paul enjoins us to be happy at all times and in all circumstance. The youths understood that scripture injunction so well and they have turned their misery into fun. The road suddenly became a beach and my people are definitely having fun.
TO GOD BE THE GLORY”.