YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – Following a devastating Oct. 8 landslide, the Catholic archbishop of Cameroon’s capital city has expressed his “spiritual closeness” to victims of the disaster that left at least 30 people and 20 wounded.
In an Oct. 9 statement, Archbishop Jean Mbarga said he learned with “consternation the tragedy that occurred in the Mbankolo neighborhood following a landslide.”
Reassuring the families of the victims of his “spiritual closeness,” Mbarga entrusted both victims and survivors “to the maternal intercession of Mary, Our Lady of the Rosary, so that the souls of the deceased may rest in peace.”
“I join the entire population of the Yaoundé 2 municipality in offering my condolences to all the bereaved families,” he said.
The landslide was caused by a dyke that gave way after a heavy downpour, unleashing a wall of water that swept away everything on its path, with houses flattened and trees uprooted.
After several hours of rainfall, the dyke situated on the Mbangkolo hills in the capital Yaoundé of Cameroon was unable to hold back the increased volume of water, according to Joseph Assola, a local official.
“It took people unawares,” he said.
Chamagne Virginie, a Yaoundé resident, said she was sleeping when she heard “a noise as if it was a plane crashing.”
When she rushed out, she saw a wall of water flowing down.
“I died when I saw my kid brother being carried away by the current. Miraculously, he clutched onto the pillar of a neighbor’s house and held onto it until the water level went down,” she told Crux.
With tears running down her cheeks, Virginie said her brother’s family was washed away with the ferocious floods.
“My brother watched helplessly as the flood washed his house away along with his entire family, [including] a wife and three children. He tried to jump into the raging floods but someone held him back,” she said.
Ymele Guy, a man in his late fifties, told Crux that his wife was already asleep and he was lying on the couch in the living room. In the blink of an eye, the lights went off.
“I went outside and saw water sweeping everything along its way. I rushed in to wake up my wife on the bed. Before I could enter water was already carrying her away. I was able to save her. I also saved four other kids. But there was a fifth child who was unfortunate as the water washed off the child from my hands. That six-year-old child was ripped from my hands by the advancing water,” he told Crux.
That same fate was suffered by at least ten other kids who were celebrating the birthday of their friend.
“They never knew it would be their last feast on Mother Earth,” one witness said.
“Due to the down-pour, the kids, who numbered between ten and fifteen, were unable to return to their homes. They were later carried away by the water,” she said. “Those were little children, full of life and their future ahead of them-wiped away in a flash. So sad.”
A seven-week-old baby was miraculously saved when he ended up atop a heap of rubble.
“God surely saved him by placing him on that heap of rubble to spend the night,” Virginie said. The child is currently receiving treatment in a local hospital.
Assola, the local leader, said the dyke that failed was constructed more than a hundred years ago, during the German colonial era, and had already depreciated with time, so its collapse was just a matter of time.
“When the heavy downpour came, the already fragile structure could not withstand the additional volume of water, and the result is what we see today,” he said.
Cameroon’s Minister of Housing and Urban Development, Celestine Ketcha Courtes, said the tragedy could have been avoided if the population had listened to the warnings of the National Observatory on Climate Change, which had predicted that Cameroon would witness heavy downpours this year.
“With that information, I issued directives calling on the population to vacate zones prone to floods. This happened because people have occupied the waterbed, but we should all know that water is not something you can hold back with your hands. No house, no tree can withstand its strength,” she said.
The Minister of Territorial Administration, Paul Atanga Nji, who offered President Paul Biya’s condolence message and an aid package to the affected population, said the disaster was wholly avoidable if the population had respected the laws on construction.
We have to sensitize the population that it is not good to construct in risky zones like slopes and marshy areas…the laws of the Republic should have prevented construction in this place. When you are in an area, it is better to abide by the rules and regulations,” Nji said, who praised rescue officers who assisted victims.