Da The Mercury del 09/08/2006
Originale su http://www.themercury.co.za/index.php?fArticleId=3382370

Hundreds missing after Ethiopian floods

ADDIS ABABA: Hopes faded yesterday of finding survivors from hundreds of people missing after weekend flash floods had devastated a town in eastern Ethiopia, officials and residents said.

With the death toll from flooding in and around Dire Dawa hovering at 206, they said frantic rescue efforts were continuing but conceded chances were slim of locating alive any of the more than 300 people still unaccounted for.

"We are expecting the death toll to increase," Berekat Simon, a senior aide to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, said in the capital, about 500km west of Dire Dawa.

Military divers joined the search in the now-receding waters of the two rivers that burst their banks as the operation expanded 40km downstream, where officials said more bodies might have been carried by the flood.

"We have dispatched the army and police as far as 40km downstream to look for bodies," Dire Dawa police inspector Beniam Fikru said. "We also have divers searching in river bed waterholes."

"The search is in full-swing downstream," Dire Dawa resident Kassim Ahmed said, adding, however, that relatives of many of the missing had lost faith their family members could be saved.

Ethiopian Red Cross official Kassahun Debelie said from Dire Dawa that many families held out hope that bodies of their missing relatives could at least be recovered for burial after the discovery of vehicles in the sand.

"We can see parts of partially buried cars and motorbikes in the river bed," he said. "People think that some people could be buried in them and that is why they keep searching."

Security forces and aid workers were digging through mud, sand and debris with heavy equipment, small garden tools and their hands in a desperate attempt to find more survivors.

At least 96 people were rescued on Sunday and Monday.

Crowds of people crammed makeshift mortuaries and overwhelmed hospitals in search of the missing, while others carried on with the gruesome and emotional task of identifying the dead and burying them, Ahmed said.

On Monday, officials said the death toll from the flooding overnight on Saturday had risen from 191 to 206, including at least 39 children, many of whom died in their sleep. About 10 000 people are estimated to have been left homeless by the raging waters from two rivers, the Dechatu and Dire Dawa rivers, which broke their banks after heavy rains, and swept through the town and adjacent areas.

As local aid workers distributed food and water to grieving survivors, officials said federal authorities would step up their relief operations.

"We are organising all necessary items to be sent," said Simon Mechale of the Disaster Preparedness and Prevention Office.

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